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Rugby Championship: Australia seek to shore up scrum while blooding in new caps

June window:

Will be disappointed to have lost 2-1 in an enthralling series with Ireland, but the opposition was top notch and should ensure the Aussies are battle hardened, which they will need to be with back-to-back games against New Zealand to kick the tournament off.

Squad news and preparations:

Have been hit by a couple of injuries to their Fijian fliers Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi, although skipper Michael Hooper seems good to go after his knee injury which is a big plus. Coach Michael Cheika, with one eye directed towards RWC2019, has included six uncapped players in his squad Jermaine Ainsley, Folau Faingaa, Tom Banks, Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes, and 18-year-old Jordan Petaia.

Strengths and weaknesses:

The back line can still cause damage when it hits top gear, especially when Kurtley Beale is on his game, and Cheika is considering using the talented Reece Hodge at centre this season. The forwards generally went well against the formidable Ireland pack and the old Achilles heel of poor scrummaging seems to have been banished.

Players to watch:

David Pocock looked in great nick against Ireland after his break from rugby and will again be key, while Beale is playing the best rugby of his career.  Israel Folau is a talent that Australia don’t always get the best out of, and Bernard Foley is an underrated player who can take Australia to another level when he is really ticking. Taniela Tupou – Tongan Thor – is really beginning to flex his muscles up front both at scrum-time and in the loose and made the Super Rugby All-Stars XV for the 2018 season.

Championship History:

Won the Tri-Nations on three occasions – in 2000, 2001 and 2011 – and took the revamped four-team tournament in the shortened tournament of 2015 – when the key was their 27-19 win against New Zealand in Sydney.

Squad:

Backs: Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Billy Meakes, Sefa Naivalu, Jordan Petaia, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Curtis Rona, Matt Toomua. Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley*, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Folau Faingaa*, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (capt), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Caleb Timu, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou.

Fixtures:

August 18 v New Zealand (Sydney); August 25 v New Zealand (Auckland); September 8 v South Africa (Brisbane); September 15 v Argentina (Brisbane); September 29 v South Africa (Port Elizabeth); October 6 v Argentina (Salta).

Prediction:

Beginning to up their game as the World Cup hoves into view. Second place and possible a win over New Zealand first up.

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