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Lessons from Scotland and Samoa losses give Wallaby hopefuls a short time to make big strides

Date

Paul Cully

Quade Cooper may be playing against the Lions sooner than he hoped.

Quade Cooper may be playing against the Lions sooner than he hoped. Photo: Getty Images

The tussle between the provinces and the Australian Rugby Union over the player release plans for the British and Irish Lions series should not disguise what it means for Wallabies candidates: the first selection cull of the year is not as distant as it seems.    

If ARU boss Bill Pulver's 'Wallabies first' doctrine holds sway and the plan is implemented, it is understood a group of 25 protected players (although the final number might be subject to negotiations) will be chosen in the second half of May, and the Super franchises told. They will be available for up to two further rounds of Super Rugby before preparations for the Lions begin in earnest and they convene as national group in the first week of June.

Consequently, there are only two-and-a-half months of of regular-season Super Rugby – a step below the intensity of Tests - to convince the selectors. Those with incumbency status and involvement in that significant defeat of England at Twickenham in November might be hard to shift.

By definition, 16 Wallabies from last year's list of 41 will be not be part of that initial gathering. Add in those who have worn Test jerseys before 2012 but found last year ruined by injury - and the sizeable group of uncapped players such as Jesse Mogg and Christian Lealiifano who are knocking on the door – and that is a significant number for whom May will bring gloomy news.

For those on the outer, they will be allowed to suit up for Super Rugby duty in round 17 on the weekend of June 7-9, or - in the case of the Reds players - take on the Lions in Brisbane.

Despite Queensland letting their objections be known to the plan, the condensed nature of that first Wallabies list means they could still have a number of their big names players available for the Lions. The likes of Anthony and Saia Faingaa would be no means guaranteed to make the 25, while Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Dom Shipperley, Mike Harris and potentially even Quade Cooper would be feeling a lot safer if they produce irresistible form in coming months. The Reds might yet field a strong side against the visitors. 

In the case of the Waratahs, Lachie Turner, Rob Horne and Israel Folau spring to mind as those who could be heading to Perth for a Super Rugby game against the Force while provincial teammates are quarantined. For the Force, Hugh McMeniman, Ben McCalman and Salesi Ma'afu no doubt dream of a return to the Test arena. On June 7, the Brumbies v Rebels game will contain more than its fair share of hopefuls.

That weekend's three games games could also double as last auditions: the final six names to complete the official Wallabies squad for the opening Lions Test will be added at the conclusion of the weekend.  

The Force v Waratahs game in Perth – on a Sunday night - adds credence to the rationale behind the player release plan. Should it not be in place, the Wallabies in the Waratahs squad  - and there were 10 in the 23-man squad that beat England - would face a return trip across the continent less than a fortnight before the first Lions Test. Media, sponsorship and commercial duties also chew up time.

There are legitimate concerns about a lack of rugby in the build up to that June 22 match in Brisbane, although these are neatly answered by the fact the players will have 16 rounds under their belts by early June. Some rest, rather than another round of rugby, might be the most appropriate route at that stage, although, in truth, there are probably more imperfect than perfect solutions to these logistical challenges.

Still, the lessons of the Scotland and Samoan Tests in recent years should still be fresh. It will be too too late for Australian rugby to express regrets about inadequate preparation if the cheery Lions are photographed nursing celebratory beers in the Sydney Airport departure lounge come July.

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Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
 
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