MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia coach Michael Cheika will welcome Will Genia back as starting scrumhalf for the June internationals but former apprentice carpenter Joe Powell will have his chance to carve out a Wallabies career in the veteran’s shadow.
The shaggy-haired Powell was a shock call-up to Cheika’s squad last year after impressing at the ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby but he was left to watch from the sidelines as Australia were first whitewashed 3-0 by England and then muddled through a disjointed Rugby Championship campaign.
The 23-year-old has been recalled to the squad for next month’s matches against Fiji, Scotland and Italy, beating out New South Wales Waratahs’ Jake Gordon for the right to battle Nick Phipps for the role of Genia’s understudy.
Cheika described last year’s call-up of Powell as an “out there” selection but said there was little left-field about his recall this year.
“No one is asking about Joe Powell this year as they know he’s made the step up to be in Wallabies contention,” Cheika said on Tuesday.
Phipps, with 52 test caps, is a seasoned campaigner but has struggled for consistency in a difficult season for the Waratahs with just four wins from 12 matches.
That has opened the door for Powell, who has stepped up as the Brumbies’ starting number nine this season in the absence of injured Argentina scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli.
“If Tomas wasn’t injured at the start of the year I don’t think there would have been any chance I would have been in the squad,” Powell told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
”Obviously Jake Gordon’s been playing well and I think he would have got the jump on me.
“I think everyone was gee-ing me up for a while saying I was going to be in (the squad) so it was a bit of a relief to finally say I was ... otherwise it would have been a bit embarrassing if I didn’t get there.”
Powell’s immediate focus will be on securing the twice champion Brumbies a berth in the Super Rugby playoffs, and a home win over the lowly Melbourne Rebels on Saturday would go a long way toward that end.
The Australian conference-leading Brumbies returned to form last week with a 39-15 thrashing of the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, running in six tries after failing to cross the line in two of their previous three games.
“We’re scoring a few nice tries which is nice to see because we had a bit of a drought there,” said Powell.
“So it was nice to get that off our back.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford