Michael Cheika has stressed there are “no gambles” in his Wallabies side for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium.
But he also provided his players with one final rev-up, hinting that spots in the hotly-contested team can be lost just as easily as they were won.
“Selection’s one thing, playing is another,” Cheika told reporters on Friday ahead of the opening Test of a season that culminates at the World Cup.
It is the first time Cheika will coach the national side on home soil, doing so with a new-look team under his command after one of the most open team selections in years.
Debate has swirled over some of his choices and the level to which Cheika is experimenting, given the World Cup is only just around the corner.
“There’s no gambling here. I have to pick a team to do a certain job on Saturday night and I feel this is the best team to do that,” he said.
The pre-match focus has honed in to a degree on Scott Higginbotham – to some a surprising choice at number eight ahead of Ben McCalman, who had started every match under Cheika’s reign but is not even in the squad to face the Springboks.
In the space of just a few hours on Thursday, Higginbotham was described as one of the best in the world in his position by former South Africa captain Bob Skinstad and an underachiever who has never played to his potential by World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer.
The Melbourne Rebels captain has long been criticised by some as playing too loose and lacking the workrate for a No.8 but he finds himself in the Wallabies side because of his leaping ability at line-outs and his mobility, which gives another edge to an Australian side committed to unpredictability in attack.
Higginbotham won Cheika over with his performances at training and the coach said he believed he was ready to disprove his knockers.
“I think Scott Higginbotham has just really impressed me over the last two or three weeks of training in camp, first while Super Rugby was still on, then in Caloundra and now down here,” Cheika said.
“He’s really put a strong case forward to be selected.
“He’s got an opportunity on Saturday night to show what he can do and I’m sure he’ll take it.”