ADDED RESPONSIBILITY: Michael Hooper will lead the Wallabies against Fiji tomorrow.
ADDED RESPONSIBILITY: Michael Hooper will lead the Wallabies against Fiji tomorrow. Paul Kane

Tim Horan: Testing time for Wallabies

THE next three weeks will be defining for Michael Cheika and the Wallabies.

They're defining for two reasons - one, to re-engage the public back into the game and support the game; and two, to give an opportunity for some new players to put their hands up - not just for the Rugby Championship but what's coming up in just over two years' time at the World Cup.

At grassroots and club level the game is very strong but at Super Rugby level it's been let down over the past six months.

So it's an opportunity for the Wallabies to show what wearing the gold jersey means - not just to the player, but to supporters and people who watch the game.

The 3pm kickoffs will be great for families who want to bring their kids along so they can enjoy games normally played in slippery conditions under lights. That's a really vital piece of the landscape.

The challenge for Michael Cheika and his selection panel is to provide opportunities for some of the younger players to see if they have the capacity to step up to the Test match arena.

Whether that's a Lukhan Tui, Ned Hanigan - who has got the nod for the first game against Fiji - or a potential superstar such as Jake Gordon, these are the players who will be part of the next World Cup in two years.

I am all for Michael Cheika changing the team up every week during the three matches to develop more depth at Test level. This is not giving away Test jerseys, as there is no such thing.

 

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika looks on during a training session
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika looks on during a training session PAUL MILLER

But it's an opportunity to look at players and to see whether they can withstand the pressure of rugby at the highest level.

Stephen Moore has been a wonderful leader and a great player for the Wallabies for many years but his position has come under challenge from Tolu Latu and Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has been handed the hooker's jersey for the first Test. It's one thing to be a leader but you also need to be first selected as well.

I have always been a big fan of Moore's leadership qualities both on and off the field but what an honour it will be for Michael Hoper to be captain against Fiji.

I am sure Moore will get the call to captain at least one of the Tests - probably the one against Scotland - and perhaps until then he can be used something like a Davis Cup captain.

The Wallabies did not perform very well last year and two years out from the World Cup we need to put a stake in the ground.

With Kurtley Beale rested for the Test matches and Samu Kerevi injured for the next six weeks, we could see a couple of different centre combinations against Fiji, Scotland and Italy.

Fiji in the first game will be tough and Scotland and Italy both play in the Six Nations, with Scotland only losing three players to the British and Irish Lions tour.

The Wallabies should win all three Tests but it's all about how they perform in doing that.

If they can play with some style and at the same time give some new players a chance to prove their worth in a Wallabies jersey, then we could take some momentum into the Rugby Championships and it will give people a chance to see just what shape we could be in for the World Cup in Japan in 2019.

We are certainly overdue a Bledisloe Cup win but first things first, let's get past Fiji in Melbourne tomorrow and the two other Test matches and then will see whether we are any chance of winning the Bledisloe Cup.

But if we do, then how good would it be to take the cup around Australia?

That would certainly go some way to re-engaging with the supporters.

Tim Horan is a Fox Sports commentator. Every game of the Wallabies 'arvo' Test rugby series is live and ad-break free during play on Fox Sports

News Corp Australia


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