Eddie Jones has pulled a Wallabies World Cup selection shock by leaving Test great and co-captain Michael Hooper out of his squad for the tournament starting next month.
Hooper, a veteran of 125 Test caps and the long-time standalone skipper, has been told by Jones he will not be in Australia’s 33-man squad when it is announced on Thursday night, according to multiple reports including News Corp.
The 31-year-old has missed the last three Tests because of a lingering calf problem which is said to have cast doubt in Jones and selectors’ minds. The omission could well spell the end of Hooper’s legendary career in the green and gold.
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News Corp reported Tate McDermott will be chosen as one of Australia’s captains in a largely youthful squad for the tournament. Rising star Fraser McReight, who started in Hooper’s absence, will be named in the squad, according to Fairfax.
The rise of Tom Hooper over the past few weeks means Jones effectively had to choose between either Hooper or McReight, who combined superbly with gun Rob Valetini in the back-row in the narrow loss to the All Blacks in Dunedin.
Jones was cagey about how bad Hooper’s injury was after the match.
“Just wait and see, just sit in your chair and wait,” Jones said in New Zealand when asked if Hooper would travel to Darwin for the Wallabies’ next camp.
A final World Cup warm-up clash with France on August 28 is the last chance to get a taste of success before Australia’s tournament begins against rugby minnows Georgia on September 9.
Most of the 23 who gave the All Blacks a massive fright would, injuries aside, be in the frame to make up Jones’s team for the Georgia game.
But Jones still has some big calls to make, with injury concerns lingering over a host of players including superstar centre Samu Kerevi (broken hand).
Prop Taniela Tupou suffered what was said to be a rib injury at the MCG that should be minor enough for him to be on the plane to France, but Jones was impressed with the performance of his replacement against New Zealand, Melbourne Rebels prop Pone Fa’amausili, who could have earnt a berth.
“It’s remarkable what he has done,“ Jones said after the match, with Fa’amausili’s spot also likely clinched after an achilles injury to Allan Alaalatoa.
“He’s a guy who was playing maximum 10-15 minutes of Super Rugby and not well. He’s come out here in a Test match against New Zealand and played 60 minutes and acquitted himself really well.”
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Zane Nonggorr came on for Fa’amausili in Dunedin and while not as effective, the 22-year-old should be headed to France.
Other niggles suffered by Dave Porecki and Jordan Uelese and the ongoing recovery of Len Ikitau could weigh heavily on Jones, although depth in the playing ranks is not as strong for the Wallabies as in the past.
An experienced No.10, which could come from one of either Quade Cooper or Bernard Foley, looms as Jones’s likely back up for Gordon and Nic White for McDermott.
The backline remains one of the more settled after positive returns from injury for Andrew Kellaway and Jordan Petaia, with strong wing options in Mark Nawaqanitawase and Marika Koroibete, with a likely spot for NRL convert Suliasi Vunivalu also.
Whatever squad Jones goes with, his confidence remains higher than most, adamant his group, with new names and old, will build to a point of success.
“Four losses are four losses but … sometimes the result sheet doesn’t reflect what you’re actually doing and that’s hard for people to understand,” he said after the loss in Dunedin.
“I think we‘re definitely moving in the right direction but we’ve got to win games.”
POSSIBLE WALLABIES WORLD CUP SQUAD
Hookers: Dave Porecki, Jordan Uelese, Matt Faessler
Props: Angus Bell, James Slipper, Blake Schoupp, Taniela Tupou, Pone Fa’amausili, Zane Nonggorr
Locks: Richie Arnold, Nick Frost, Will Skelton, Jed Holloway
Back-row: Tom Hooper, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Langi Gleeson
Halfbacks: Tate McDermott, Nic White, Ryan Lonergan
Fly-halves: Carter Gordon, Quade Cooper
Midfield: Samu Kerevi, Len Ikitau, Izaia Perese
Outside backs: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Suliasi Vunivalu, Marika Koroibete, Andrew Kellaway
Utility: Ben Donaldson, Jordan Petaia, Dyan Pietsch.
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