Brendan Cannon says battle to become next Wallabies No.2 is wide open

Former Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon believes the battle for the Wallabies No.2 jersey is wide open ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Following Stephen Moore’s retirement overnight and Tatafu Polota-Nau’s decision to sign a two and a half year deal with UK club Leicester, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will need to fill a number of spots in his training squad in 2018.

“Tatafu heading overseas for a stint will probably be a really good thing because we’ll have four young starting hookers playing Super Rugby next year, plus the reserves adding depth and I think it’s going to be fantastic over the next 18-24 months to watch how they all grow,” Cannon told Rugby News.

“Cheika has blooded a heap of young blokes over the last year or so and that’s exactly what you need to do this far out from the World Cup.”

While 78-cap veteran Polota-Nau will still be eligible to play for the Wallabies, the hooker will be 34 by the start of the 2019 World Cup and will need to remain largely injury free during his two and half seasons in the UK.

Cannon said he’s already been impressed by a number of the young hookers in Australia, with Jordan Uelese, Andrew Ready, Tolu Latu, Hugh Roach, Alex Mafi, Folau Fainga’a and Brendan Paenga-Amosa all currently contracted at Australian Super Rugby clubs and still under the age of 25.

“Jordan Uelese’s selection against the Springboks earlier this year was quite left field but he has lots of potential,” Cannon said.

“Andrew Ready up in Queensland is another who I think might come back into the reckoning. He fell out of favour a little at the Reds this year but he was really good in the NRC and I think he’ll return to his best next year.

“James Hanson is down at the Rebels, Tolu Latu and Damien Fitzpatrick are at the Waratahs and you’ve got Robbie Abel at the Brumbies.

“A few of them have already been blooded, but there is a really exciting opportunity for a young hooker, and it will be a young hooker that will get the chance, to take ownership of the jersey while Tatafu is off the scene. It’s a really exciting time for Australian rugby, particularly in the front row.”

Cannon made 42 appearances for the Wallabies between 2001 and 2006 but said the game had changed a lot since he last wore a gold jersey, particularly for those in the No.2 jersey.

“Set piece is a given, you’ve got to be a good scrummager and your lineout needs to be consistently accurate, that’s what you’re there for. But everything on top of that is a bonus. Your mobility, catch pass, injecting yourself into the attack, your defence, your general field coverage, they’re the things that are going to set some of the hookers from the rest of the pack,” he said.

“You need to be able to play a hard type game and be combative but then at times also play open and loose. The game is so much quicker now and while the physicality is always going to be there, the pace and tempo of the game has created a great opportunity for a really mobile, exciting, young hooker to make his mark.”

Cannon said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of experience in Australia’s hooking ranks less than two years out from the World Cup in Japan.

“They’re bold, brash, full of confidence, they back themselves and don’t have any doubt. The game is certainly getting younger and a number of guys are going to get an opportunity to make themselves an instant selection.

“In saying that, we’ve got two whole Super Rugby seasons ahead of the World Cup, so there could be a bolter come from no where and make the jumper his own.”

So who does Cannon think will play hooker for the Wallabies at the next World Cup?

“If Tatafu can stay injury free, he is mandatory because he has been one of our most consistent performers this year. His game will probably even get better playing in the UK,” Cannon said.

“After that, there is a massive question mark around who comes next in the pecking order. Those next few spots in the squad are anyones for the taking, it really is wide open and that’s really exciting.

“It will probably be the most widely contested spot in the Wallabies squad.”