Injuries will play a role in the make-up of the Wallabies’ 38-man squad to be announced on Sunday, with Jordan Petaia and Suliasi Vunivalu already ruled out and a handful of contenders working their way back from various ailments.
The 40-man training squad that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie selected in March also provides an insight into his thinking, although it was telling that Rennie said this week that up to 20 per cent of his squad would only be confirmed after the final round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. That’s a high percentage, so the coach might be using a motivational tool here, but there is no doubt that the likes of rising Brumbies lock Nick Frost can do himself a favour with a compelling performance in the final round.
Frost, Rob Leota, Kyle Godwin, Irae Simone and Lachlan Lonergan could all come into this category: players whose claims are all worthy but aware they are in a close race.
My 38-man squad is as follows – a 21-17 forwards-backs split – with a short explanation of the thinking in each positional unit.
Hookers: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feleti Kaitu’u, Lachlan Lonergan. It was tempting to go for four hookers given Paenga-Amosa’s pending exit. Kaitu’u works his way in after consistent form and Lonergan is the longer term development option. Folau Fainga’a and Jordan Uelese have gone sideways.
Props: Taniela Tupou, Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Robertson, Angus Bell, Scott Sio. The inclusions of Robertson and Sio are the big changes from the training squad. Robertson’s form has been irresistible for the Force, while there was some real enthusiasm about Sio’s carries against the Hurricanes last week.
Second-rowers: Izack Rodda, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Trevor Hosea, Sitaleki Timani. A tough call here as Nick Frost is effectively overlooked for Rodda, who is back from France. The young Brumbies lock will be a Wallaby, but there is no harm in letting him get another year of maturity into his frame.
Back-rowers: Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Rob Valetini, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Seru Uru, Lachlan Swinton, Isi Naisarani. Two big calls here: bringing in Naisarani and Uru. The former is likely heading overseas, but the Wallabies have to be real here: if Wilson goes down, Naisarani’s physicality is better than the next contender. Uru has been told to muscle up in defence by Reds coach Brad Thorn, but he can be moulded into a Test No.8. Liam Wright and Angus Scott-Young are the unlucky exclusions.