Rugby Championship state of play 2017: Australia
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 18/08/17 10:53pm
The Rugby Championship kicks off on August 19, live on Sky Sports, and the first of the four nations to announce their extended squads was Michael Cheika's Wallabies.
With that in mind, we take a look at the state of play in the Australia camp as they prepare to face New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina in what should be a compelling series.
Among the panel of 38 players selected by Cheika, fly-half Quade Cooper is the biggest name omitted.
The 29-year-old moved back to Australia and the Reds in 2017 after just a single season with Toulon in the Top 14, harbouring hopes of extending his international Test career.
His omission is all the more surprising given that it leaves Bernard Foley as the only specialist fly-half among the 38 players selected.
As well as Cooper, backrow Scott Higginbotham is another notable exclusion.
Like club team-mate Cooper, Higginbotham moved back to Australia in 2017, joining the Reds from NEC Green Rockets in Japan with the intention of regaining his place in the Wallaby set-up and adding to his 34 caps.
In June he was the starting No 8 for Tests against Fiji and Scotland but has now been completely left out of the extended training squad.
Despite also featuring in June, Waratahs back Rob Horne is another who has been left out ahead of his move to the Northampton Saints in a continuation of the policy that overseas-bound players are not part of Cheika's plans.
Such a policy does not seem to have been extended to uncapped 20-year-old Reds centre Campbell Magnay though, who was named in the squad despite having signed a deal with Japanese side Suntory.
Eleven new caps
What is clear from this latest squad is that Cheika is keen to bring a freshness to the side, and in handing out call-ups to 11 uncapped players, seven of whom have never experienced a squad call-up at all, he has put his faith in youth.
Six of those are Reds players, with props Sef Fa'agase and Taniela Tupou, second-row Izack Rodda, backrow Adam Korczyk, centre Magnay and wing Izaia Perese all called in.
Tupou and Perese are handed another chance to impress having been previously called up as development players in 2016.
Western Force tighthead prop Jermaine Ainsley, centre Bill Meakes and wing Curtis Rona each also get a chance to come into camp and try to impress.
Two uncapped Rebels players make up the contingent with Fijian-born wing Marika Koroibete and 20-year-old hooker Jordan Uelese each called up for the first time.
Force props Pek Cowan and Tetera Faulkner also return to the national training group for the first time since 2014 after strong ends to the season.
Having spent the season with Wasps, Kurtley Beale is included in an Australia squad for the first time since the 2015 World Cup after moving back to the Waratahs.
In addition to the 11 uncapped players, Cheika has called up a further seven in hooker Tolu Latu, prop Faulkner, flankers Jack Dempsey, Ned Hanigan and Richard Hardwick, wing Eto Nabuli and full-back Karmichael Hunt, who all have four caps or less, making it a squad vastly filled with inexperience.
It will be interesting to see how Cheika sets about trying to successfully blend a squad with such a new make-up and who will emerge as a potential new star.
Super Rugby form
The 2017 Super Rugby campaign has been a tough one for the Australian franchises.
For the first time in history, the Australian sides failed to pick up a single victory over a New Zealand franchise during a regular-Super Rugby campaign, losing all 25 games.
Against the South African sides, who have not been at their strongest either, the Aussies lost 10 times only picking up four victories, while they also lost more times against the Jaguares than they won: losing three times and winning twice.
Out of a total of 45 fixtures against the Kiwi, South African and Argentinian sides, the five Australian franchises won six, drew once and lost 38, yielding a meagre 7.5 per cent win percentage.
All five of New Zealand's teams earned more points than the Brumbies, the Australian conference winners, while the Rebels finished bottom of the 18-team pile, even below Japan's struggling Sunwolves after their stunning victory over the Blues.
Added to this, Australia lost to a Scotland side in Sydney minus Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour in June.
But all of this only makes their situation more fascinating. Will they let their Super Rugby campaign and form seep into their international displays, or will the criticism they have faced bind them and prove a catalyst for them to step up and prove all the doubters wrong?
After all, Cheika is still blessed with the talent of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Dane Haylett-Petty, Will Genia, Bernard Foley and Stephen Moore to call upon.
On their day, they could still prove one of the deadliest open-field and counter-attacking sides in world rugby. But since losing the 2015 World Cup final to New Zealand, they have won fewer than half of their Tests.
This upcoming Rugby Championship is pivotal for Cheika and co, and could go some way to determining the direction Australian rugby will take over the next few years.
Perform well and spirits will lift with stories of a revival on the cards, perform poorly and the argument will be made they are slipping from rugby's top table.
Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Adam Coleman, Pek Cowan, Jack Dempsey, Kane Douglas, Sef Fa'agase, Tetera Faulkner, Ned Hanigan, Richard Hardwick, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Adam Korczyk, Tolu Latu, Sean McMahon, Stephen Moore (captain), Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Lopeti Timani, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese.
Backs: Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Karmichael Hunt, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Campbell Magnay, Billy Meakes, Eto Nabuli, Sefa Naivalu, Izaia Perese, Nick Phipps, Curtis Rona.