Melbourne – Wallabies coach Michael Cheika revealed on Friday that lineout general Rob Simmons was axed and not injured as he searches for ways to keep the three-match England series alive.
Simmons, a 61-Test veteran, went off with a back problem early in last week’s 39-28 loss to the Six Nations champions in Brisbane, and was assumed to be unavailable for Saturday’s Melbourne Test through injury.
But Cheika said that was not the case after Sam Carter was instead picked for his 13th Test, where he will unite with fellow Brumbies lock Rory Arnold as the Wallabies bid to level the series.
“He (Simmons) was available this week,” Cheika told reporters.
“Any player that’s left out is not happy, obviously. But that’s the challenge for him, to improve and get his spot back like all players who are left out of the team.”
The decision shows Cheika is making some big selection calls in his bid to get the Wallabies back in the series. It comes after he left World Cup star prop Scott Sio out of the match-day 23-man squad after he struggled in the scrums last week.
Cheika has also omitted former captain James Horwill from his replacements bench as he decided on a five-three forwards-backs split among his reserves.
Also cut Friday from the extended bench were No 8 Wycliff Palu and flank Liam Gill, while Ben McCalman, Dean Mumm and Luke Morahan were retained.
“We are looking for a bit more coverage all round. That explains Dean Mumm and Ben McCalman, as we have two players who can play on the open side in the starting team we can go that way,” he said.
“We wanted to have a bit more coverage across the backline as well.
“We lost a wing last week (Rob Horne, concussion) which disrupted us a little bit, so we thought we’d give the backline the opportunity to play in its full shape for the whole match with Morahan.”
Cheika said openside flank Michael Hooper would play closer in this week, after he bobbed out wide for two tries in Brisbane, following the eye injury that has sidelined star breakdown poacher David Pocock.
“Hooper will probably play a little more around the ball on the ground. I don’t see the dynamics changing too much,” he said.
“(New No 8) Sean McMahon is a like-for-like player (as Pocock), he’s in that mould physically and Hooper will probably play slightly different in the absence of David Pocock.”
Cheika said the pain of the Brisbane defeat would drive his players to level the series.
“Of course, we want to bounce back. It hurts losing, it hurts a lot, there’s no brushing that away and that pain still sits inside you,” he said.
“And that’s what drives you because you don’t want that pain of losing.”
The Wallabies coach said he has been working on rectifying the problems that cost them victory last week, but was happy with his side’s attack.
“I thought they were pretty good in attack last week,” he said.
“I don’t think we lacked anything in the attacking sector. So if they were to attack like they did last week and create the same opportunities again I would be pleased.”
15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 James Slipper
Substitutes (three to be omitted): 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Wycliff Palu, 22 Ben McCalman, 23 Liam Gill, 24 Nick Frisby, 25 Christian Leali’ifano, 26 Luke Morahan
15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola
Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Jack Clifford, 22 Danny Care, 23 Elliot Daley