SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia coach Michael Cheika said his revamp of the Wallabies was “in a good place” on Friday after he named seven uncapped players in his squad for the Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.
Looking to overhaul the ageing squad that reached the 2015 World Cup final, Cheika handed debuts to 13 players last season with five more blooded in the international window in June.
To those could now be added hooker Jordan Uelese, flanker Adam Korczyk and lock Izack Rodda as well as outside backs Izaia Perese, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete and Curtis Rona, the latter two bolstering the contingent of rugby league converts.
Cheika said all of them would be contending for spots in the team for the Aug. 19 clash at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, the first of two meetings in two weeks with the All Blacks to open the southern hemisphere tournament.
The squad naming came a few days after flanker Michael Hooper was installed as Wallabies captain in place of Stephen Moore and on Friday Cheika also announced experienced halfbacks Will Genia and Bernard Foley as his vice captains.
“Since the start of 2016, we’ve started turning the list around and I think we’re in a good space with that right now,” Cheika told reporters.
“We’ve got a new leadership in now and there’s still a few players coming back to join on the journey for the next couple of years.
“But at the same time, the guys that started last year are starting to get into the double digits, the 20s, of test experience, which is essential.
“So any newer players we bring in over the next year or two will just fit into that environment and the standards of the players who are in there.”
The chances of the four uncapped backs in the squad making the matchday 23 were lessened by Cheika’s confidence that centre Samu Kerevi and utility Kurtley Beale would be fit after pectoral and hamstring injuries respectively.
Australia’s results have undoubtedly suffered during the rebuilding period with nine losses from 15 matches in 2016 and a shock defeat to Scotland in June.
While the first of three Bledisloe Cup tests this year against the world champions might not look like the best environment to introduce players to test rugby, Cheika was satisfied it would not be a gamble.
“There’s no risk, if a guy’s in the squad he’s ready to play,” Cheika added.
“There’s only 34 in the squad so there’s a good chance you are going to see one or two of them in there, for sure.”
Forwards - Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Kane Douglas, Tetera Faulkner, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (captain), Sekope Kepu, Adam Korczyk, Sean McMahon, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Lopeti Timani, Jordan Uelese.
Backs - Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Billy Meakes, Izaia Perese, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Curtis Rona, Henry Speight.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Greg Stutchbury and Ian Ransom