The high-profile omission of Fraser McReight could easily turn into a cause-celebre for Queensland rugby fans, but the warning signs were there during Super Rugby Pacific.
McReight is a great link player, but his one-on-one defence can be exposed by his relative lack of size, and he does give away the odd cheap penalty by chasing turnovers at the ruck. More physical prospects such as Charlie Gamble will be , so there are certainly no guarantees for McReight.
The Australia A program will be talked up as the way he can play his way back into the full squad – and there is some truth in that – but the increasing depth in Australian rugby means that he might not necessarily be the obvious heir apparent to Michael Hooper.
Test rugby is a brutal arena – Brumbies No 6 Tom Hooper looks made for it, but McReight has work to do in these July games against Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.
2. Brumbies were flat-out unlucky.
How best to interpret the last-minute incident involving Luke Reimer, who appeared to have won a ruck penalty against the Blues? Quite simply: you see those given in every game.
After a shaky first half, the Brumbies appeared to have established a clear edge at the breakdown in the final quarter, with the likes of replacements Jahrome Brown and Sefo Kautai making their presence felt.
The Blues were on the backfoot and lock Luke Romano was clearly in reverse gear as Reimer latched over the ball, and as result Reimer beat the Blues’ supporting players to the ball.
Referee Ben O’Keeffe saw it differently, and may argue that the Brumbies subsequently won the turnover in any case.
However, Romano then clearly played at the ball while lying on the ground, and the Brumbies could argue they had claims to two penalties in the same incident.
Whichever way you look at it, there is a strong case that for the finals, Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby need to fly in independent referees when appropriate. These are big games.
3. Bledisloe pot is coming to the boil.
The Wallabies’ drought against England is coming to an end. They won’t lose 3-0 – no chance – so the long losing streak (it currently stands at eight) will come to an end in July. And, looking further ahead, the Wallabies should avoid a repeat of the one-sided losses to the All Blacks they suffered last year.
Coach Dave Rennie has clearly been handed a fitter, more resilient group of players this year, and when you put the world-class Samu Kerevi into that mix the Wallabies have no excuses not to push the All Blacks very hard in the first Test in Melbourne in mid-September. The return game at Eden Park is always going to be a challenge, but expectations of a competitive series are realistic.
4. Lachlan Lonergan is the big mover.
Departing Brumbies coach Dan McKellar believes he has the best ‘finishers’ in the competition, and no one has done more to support that argument over the past month than Lachlan Lonergan.
The hooker is on fire at present, the real form horse in that position and he must be a contender for a bench spot against England.
He is playing with a real edge to his game, to complement his natural speed around the field. The Brumbies are dominating the Wallabies at present, with 15 players selected by Dave Rennie on Sunday. That’s more than double the amount of the next-best represented team (the Reds with seven players), and we can expect to see the Brumbies maul put to work against England come July.
On that flipside, the young halves combination of Ryan Lonergan and Noah Lolesio did not set up the drop goal attempt well against the Blues. Lolesio was clearly not expecting the pass, and it left him with a long-range attempt that was charged down by a prop.
5. My Wallabies team for the first Test against England
1 Angus Bell, 2 Dave Porecki, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 4 Darcy Swain 5 Matt Philip 6 Jed Holloway 7 Michael Hooper 8 Rob Valetini 9 Nic White 10 Quade Cooper 11 Marika Koroibete 12 Samu Kerevi 13 Len Ikitau 14 Andrew Kellaway 15 Tom Banks. Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Izaia Perese.
The injury to Izack Rodda is a setback, and strengthens the case for Jed Holloway’s size and lineout ability at No 6. Rob Leota could also do the job here but this is a selection with England’s maul in mind.
I’ve also taken a bit of a risk on the bench with Perese, but the Waratahs midfielder has been in such great form I like his X-factor ability to change a game.