31 Jul 2015

Selection issues for Wallabies after Hooper's judicial reprieve

11:26 am on 31 July 2015

Michael Hooper's judicial reprieve has added to Michael Cheika's selection headache as the Wallabies coach ponders his best line-up to take on the all-conquering All Blacks.

Hooper's availability for next week's Rugby Championship decider in Sydney despite being found guilty of striking Pumas five-eighth Nicolas Sanchez leaves Cheika with a glut of back-row talent as Wycliff Palu returns to the mix.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The destructive number 8 has been rested from Australia's first two Tests of the season, wins over South Africa and Argentina, but will be included in Cheika's squad named on Friday.

Cheika will likely find it impossible to leave out champion flanker David Pocock following his powerhouse first Test start in three years in Mendoza last weekend and will also want to max out Hooper as the Wallabies chase their first southern hemisphere crown since 2011.

How Cheika balances his back row will be among several talking points when Cheika reveals his squad for the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup battle at ANZ Stadium.

Only eight players have started in both of Australia's first two Tests this winter, suggesting Cheika is halfway there when it comes to nailing down his first-choice XV.

But there are still several big gaps to be filled, some tough decisions to be made and practically zero margin for error.

Quade Cooper's patchy form might have given Bernard Foley the upper hand in the battle for the No.10 jersey - but, then again, Cheika could opt to give the enigmatic Queenslander one last crack against New Zealand, his long-time tormenters.

Then there's Will Genia (knee), Matt Giteau (nose) and Rob Horne (calf), who all missed the Argentina trip due to injury, while Matt Toomua lasted only 10 minutes in Mendoza before suffering a concussion.

Hooper landed the blow after being obstructed by halfback Sanchez as he tried to support lock Dean Mumm in his charge for the goal line to score a try, but the judicial officer found some mitigating factors including Hooper's good character and disciplinary record.

His ban was halved, meaning he'll have served it when he misses a club match, for which he was named as a reserve.

The former Wallabies captain will be prevented from playing for his club Manly Marlins against Randwick this weekend but free to rejoin the Wallabies for the Rugby Championship decider.

The openside flanker landed the blow after being held back by flyhalf Sanchez while trying to support Mumm as the lock forward charged to the line to score a try in the 59th minute of Australia's 34-9 victory over the Pumas in Mendoza.

The judicial officer's findings said "It was found that Hooper, in circumstances of considerable frustration and in order to try and rid himself of his opponent, drew back his free right arm and... struck out at the opponent's head and neck area with his open hand."

"I found no aggravating factors to be present but did but did find a number of mitigating factors including Hooper's good character and repute along with his good disciplinary record."

The mitigating factors led to his ban being halved which will allow him to serve it by missing the club match.

"I found this match could not be considered inconsequential and would have meaningful consequence for Hooper given his current competition and rotation within the Australian squad," the judicial office.

After leaving the hearing Hooper says it's been a hard week to be honest, tough being left in limbo for so long but there's a result there now.

He says he's unhappy with it, but will get on with it now with a focus towards the Bledisloe.

Although Australia also have David Pocock to fill the number seven shirt, Michael Cheika has enjoyed good returns from using both openside flankers in the closing stages of the first two matches of the championship.

The Wallabies could secure a first southern hemisphere title since the similarly truncated 2011 Tri-Nations if they can beat the All Blacks in Sydney.

If they could also beat the World Cup holders in Auckland the following week they would take possession of the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.

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