Australia have opportunity to galvanise in Rugby Championship, says Michael Lynagh
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 16/07/19 1:07pm
This Rugby Championship presents a "great opportunity" to galvanise Australia's squad leading into September's Rugby World Cup, according to Michael Lynagh.
Since the conclusion of last year's Championship, the Wallabies have only managed to prevail over Italy in the Test arena, whilst on the Super Rugby stage the Brumbies made it furthest with a semi-final loss to the Jaguares.
Lynagh, who finished his career with 72 international caps, knows just how important the coming months are as his former national side endeavour to attack the Rugby Championship before moving on to the sport's pinnacle competition in Japan.
"It hasn't been a great time for Australian rugby, teams haven't been playing well," noted Lynagh.
"Unlike the All Blacks where the players came in after being rested and performed really well, Australia's more established players haven't really shown the form that gives us a lot of hope going forwards. But it's a change of environment."
Michael Cheika has got a big job to do in bringing these guys together and looking at it as a great opportunity to use the Rugby Championship to try and galvanise the squad, get some enthusiasm and some form for the senior players in particular with the World Cup around the corner.
Michael Lynagh on the task facing the Wallabies' head coach
The Wallabies' first task in the Rugby Championship will be in Johannesburg on July 21 before hosting Argentina six days later, both matches are live on Sky Sports.
Cheika has named a 34-player squad for the opening Test and the coach has been very clear about his desired objectives.
"It's no secret we're coming from way back and to come from way back you've got to build momentum and belief in yourself on the way, it's really important."
In order to try and start that building processes, Cheika approached selection in a different fashion to before and a fashion that Lynagh approves of.
"The selectors have done a pretty good job, there's no real surprises in the team.
"It's the first time Cheika has had a team of selectors around him, Michael O'Connor - an ex-dual international for Australia and a sevens expert has come back - and Scott Johnson has returned from Scotland recently. They have got together and picked a reasonable squad.
"I like that it is has been picked on form so Cheika's old favourites of [Nick] Phipps and [Ned] Hanigan are not in it at the moment. Players like Joe Powell, the young scrum-half from the Brumbies, who has been playing really well has been selected and Matt Toomua comes back in."
When it comes to international caps and experience, the 34-player squad is an experienced one with 1209 caps in total and eight players having made over 60 Wallaby appearances.
As is the case with any side, individuals can be crucial and one who has been at the heart of many successful Australian performances before - Bernard Foley - will be watched closely by Lynagh this time around.
"In the last World Cup, he was probably one of the players of the tournament who really guided the team very well, was a really confident sort of player and that rubbed off on the rest of the team," commented the former inside-centre and fly-half.
"Since then he's really struggled a little bit with the Waratahs and his form has not been great for Australia as well. He's just not had that sort of zip that he had.
"So I'm hopeful that he changes in this environment, playing for Australia and in the build-up to the World Cup he starts taking this team by the scruff of the neck and his form improves as well."
Another man who plies his trade in the backline has caught the former Wallaby's eye too. His inspirational story, beating leukaemia to come back to professional rugby, has captured the sporting world.
His introduction into the 34-player squad marks his first since fighting the disease and his abilities on the park should bring a welcome dimension.
"A guy I'm keeping an eye on, and he's not a newcomer by any stretch of the imagination, is Christian Lealiifano, He's been playing very well for the Brumbies this year and he's got a lot of versatility - being able to play centre and fly-half.
"His goal-kicking has been pretty good and if Bernard Foley doesn't really start getting the form back on the board that we know that he can play at, Christian Lealiifano is there to step up."
For now, preparations continue in earnest ahead of the opening Rugby Championship Test. After Australia's recent results on the international stage, the pressure of starting off on a victorious note will be looming over them.
Back-to-back defeats commenced last year's Championship and if that follows again in 2019, serious conversations will be had. But, on a much more positive note, consecutive victories in Johannesburg and in Brisbane could provide the spring in the step that's required in such an important year.