Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is leaving his large band of hopefuls sweating until the last possible moment ahead of the Rugby World Cup squad announcement on Friday.
Superstar fullback Israel Folau on Thursday said he suspected there’d be plenty of anxious players awaiting a phone call after Cheika shuffled his line-ups throughout Australia’s four Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Tests.
Folau, winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, centre Tevita Kuridrani, blindside flanker Scott Fardy and hooker and captain Stephen Moore were the only five to start all four domestic winter Tests.
Barely a dozen players were assured of selection as Australia eyes an unprecedented third success in the ninth edition of rugby’s global showpiece kicking off in Britain on September 18.
Champion flankers Michael Hooper and David Pocock, versatile back-rower Ben McCalman, lineout chief Rob Simmons, back-up hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and props James Slipper and Sekope Kepu are the only forwards who would have had a peaceful night’s sleep.
Veteran midfield playmaker Matt Giteau, after controversially being overlooked by former coach Robbie Deans for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, is the only other backline ace, along with Folau, Ashley-Cooper and Tevita Kuridrani, who could have genuinely felt confident of making travel plans.
Utilities Rob Horne, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale are also most likely to receive a boarding pass, as are forwards Wycliff Palu, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Scott Sio and Greg Holmes.
While they’d be dead unlucky to miss out, such uncertainty surrounds Cheika’s first-choice halves pairing that Bernard Foley, Quade Cooper, Nick Phipps, Nic White and Will Genia all faced nervous waits after failing to produce compelling cases for inclusion.
A betting man would have all five halves in the squad but, with Giteau capable of covering both the nine and 10 positions, the door is open for Cheika to pull a major selection shock by leaving one of Australian rugby’s biggest names back in Australia.
“I’m sure some of the guys would be a bit nervous, waiting around today or before they know whether they’re in the squad or not,” Folau said.
“But you’ve just got to back what the coach has planned and ready for the squad and I’m sure whoever gets picked will do a good job.
“It’s just unfortunate you can only take 31 players over there. Some guys will have to miss out.”
Folau said the Wallabies were as much in the dark about Cheika’s pecking order for his first-choice team as Joe Public.
“Cheik made some changes last week that some guys didn’t even know about,” he said.
“We don’t know what Michael’s thinking. I’m sure whoever he picks, they’ll do a great job.
“So we’re probably more like the fans; we don’t know who’s going to get picked.
“So it will great to see the squad announced tomorrow.”
Folau suspected Cheika would use Australia’s clash with the USA in Chicago on September 5, the Wallabies’ last hit-out before the World Cup, to unveil his best possible line-up.
Possible Wallabies Rugby World Cup squad:
Backs – Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Quade Cooper, Nick Phipps, Nic White, Will Genia.
Forwards – Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, David Pocock, Scott Fardy, Dean Mumm, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, James Horwill, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, Greg Holmes, Tetera Faulkner, Stephen Moore (capt), Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Hanson.