Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is losing sleep agonising over the final make-up of his Rugby World Cup squad, but knows it will be his overlooked stars really suffering next week.
Deans said he woke at 3am on Monday morning in Durban to pour over footage of his recuperating squad hopefuls back in Australia and admitted decision day for he and fellow selectors Jim Williams and David Nucifora was approaching all too quickly.
Australia’s 30-man squad for the seven-week tournament kicking off in New Zealand on September 9 will be announced on Thursday week, less than 24 hours after the Wallabies arrive home from South Africa.
“It’s come around very quickly,” Deans said.
“It’s not going to be easy and there’ll be pain as there always tends to be but some good players are going to miss out this time.”
Deans said the squad wouldn’t be finalised until literally the last hour before the August 18 deadline.
The coach’s phone has been ringing off the hook, his email in-box overflowing, with his high-profile rehab group comprising winger Drew Mitchell (ankle), centre Rob Horne (elbow), No.8 Wycliff Palu (knee) and front-rowers James Slipper (ankle), Tatafu Polota-Nau (knee) and Benn Robinson (knee) desperate to prove their availability.
“We had a conversation last night with a few and we had one today with some we missed yesterday,” Deans said.
“They’re all working hard. As you do with rehabing, some have encountered speed bumps, but there’s nothing grave.
“But they’re all pushing the boundary because they all desperately want to be involved and they’re aware that when we get back we’ll finally test them on the Wednesday and the team’s named the next day.
“So there’ll be a fair amount of anxiety over there, I’d suggest. Hence the need for so much communication.”
For the fit fringe candidates, Saturday’s Test against South Africa at Kings Park is also make or break.
With Deans likely to include Horne in the Cup squad, the backs most under pressure appear to be winger Lachie Turner, who could lose his utility spot to Mitchell, and reserve midfielder Anthony Faingaa, who knows former vice-captains Berrick Barnes and Matt Giteau are waiting for an opportunity.
With Palu, Polota-Nau, Slipper and Robinson all high on Deans’ forwards priority list and two-times World Cup representative lock Dan Vickerman expected to get the nod, the heat is also on back-rowers Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman, second-rowers Sitaleki Timani and Radike Samo, hooker Saia Faingaa and props Pek Cowan and Salesi Ma’afu.
One player with no such worries is outstanding winger Digby Ioane, who had this piece of advice for his team-mates facing the World Cup chop.
“For myself, it’s just game by game. I don’t like to get ahead of myself because if you get ahead of yourself, you put pressure on yourself and you stress out,” Ioane said.
“That’s the last thing you need. Just try and play your best every game because you never know when you’re going to get the opportunity again.
“It might be your first and last. I’m just trying to play the best footy I can, represent Australia and look forward to the next challenge.”
For Ioane, it’s best to leave the stress to Wallabies coach and chief selector Deans.