Michael Cheika has challenged Lopeti Timani to make the Wallabies’ No.8 jersey his own after naming the uncapped Melbourne Rebels’ star for a likely Test debut.
Timani is on a nine-match bench that will be trimmed back by one on the eve of Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium.
The 25-year-old’s inclusion could be seen as the beginning of the end of the hotly debated Michael Hooper-David Pocock back-row combination.
With Pocock to take a break from rugby in 2017, Australia will soon need a new No.8 – and Timani is widely seen as the best option should Cheika revert to a bigger, more traditional ball-runner in that role.
But Cheika said it was up to Timani and all other loose forwards with Wallaby aspirations, including Ben McCalman, to take the decision out of his hands.
“We want people demanding that spot, not having to choose,” Cheika told reporters.
“I want a few guys to stand up.
“There are a few guys who have not been involved in camps at all that I’ve seen play some Super Rugby that I think: ‘that guy could do a really good job at 8’.
“There’s going to be some pressure there but you might have a guy like Sean McMahon saying something different about that, too, so that’s what we want – that competition for spots.”
Timani, who stands at an imposing 193cm and weighs 124kg, is a natural No.8 but also has experience at lock for the Rebels.
Cheika said he was keeping him in mind for both positions.
“He’s been knocking lumps out of chaps at training so it will be a good chance for him to play,” Cheika said.
“He’s got a good scrum and he’s working hard with the lads on his lineout. He’s a very powerful ball carrier and defender, so he can cover a bit in the second row and back row.”