Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has declared there’s two spring tour spots up grabs going into Saturday’s clash with the Barbarians, news which should motivate players on both sides.
In addition to scrutinising several fringe players in his own squad, Cheika will run the rule over some of the many Australians in the Barbarians line-up. He will announce a squad of 33 or 34 either late on Saturday or Sunday.
“This weekend is going to be a big game for a lot of players, there’s still a couple of spots on the tour available,” Cheika said.
“There’s probably one backline position and one forward position still available on tour, so we’re looking to see how we go this weekend with players that probably haven’t had a chance to play.”
Only Israel Folau and Jack Dempsey have been retained from the side that vanquished New Zealand last week, though the former has been named on the wing and the latter at blindside flanker. Cheika was adamant making such a big reshuffle would increase rather than diminish momentum in the aftermath of the win over the world champion All Blacks.
“Behind the guys that have been playing there’s a group of players that are busting to play,” Cheika said.
Despite the many changes, Australia will be favoured to build on their recent improving form.
Cheika’s starting side contains two uncapped players in Queensland Reds centre Duncan Paia’aua, who lines up at five-eighth against his Reds teammate and Barbarians’ captain Quade Cooper, and Force inside centre Billy Meakes. There’s a run-on opportunity too for highly regarded 20-year-old Melbourne Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese, whose two Test caps have come off the bench.
Cheika’s bench for Saturday is sprinkled with emerging talent and tour aspirants and includes three uncapped players: outside back Izaia Perese, prop Jermaine Ainsley and flanker Liam Wright, the newly crowned Australian under 20 player of the year. Reds’ youngster Wright earned a late call up after lock Rory Arnold withdrew with a knee injury and Kane Douglas was promoted from the bench.
Despite injury and availability issues, the Barbarians starting side will include 11 Test players, eight of them from Australia. That contingent includes Cooper, locks Sam Carter and Luke Jones and wingers Eto Nabuli and Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Also on Cheika’s radar as possible tour bolters are three uncapped emerging players in Reds’ front-rowers Andrew Ready and Taniela Tupou alongside Brumbies’ outside back Tom Banks.