Wallabies' Rugby World Cup squad: Winners and losers

The Wallabies' 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup is in and as ever, there were some good and hard-luck stories across the group.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and fellow selectors Michael O'Connor and Scott Johnson have settled on a split of 17 forwards and 14 backs for the tournament, which kicks off in Japan from Sept. 20.

The Wallabies' opening match follows the next day with Australia facing the improving Fiji in Sapporo.

Read on as we break down some of the winners and losers from Friday's announcement.


Adam Ashley-Cooper

The veteran utility back will head to a fourth straight World Cup having played in each of the three previous tournaments in France, New Zealand and England. Ashley-Cooper got the nod for his experience after setting himself the goal of reaching the global showpiece for a fourth time some 18 months ago. The 36-year-old Waratahs back is a veteran of 116 caps and it is that experience that Cheika and his fellow selectors have deemed vital to success in Japan. With 18 World Cup first-timers named, the Wallabies will need guys like Ashley-Cooper to lead from the front on the game's biggest stage. His ability to play in the back three and also at outside centre may have also just tipped the scales in his favour.

Jack Dempsey

The Waratahs back-rower's selection was probably the biggest surprise from Friday's announcement given he had played no part in the Rugby Championship. Dempsey had already endured an injury-interrupted Super Rugby season before suffering further knocks in Sydney's Shute Shield competition. But he told ESPN he is expecting to play in the Wallabies' final World Cup warm-up game, against Samoa on Sept. 7, to prove he is ready for the rigours of tournament play. Dempsey provides cover at No. 6 and could come into the frame for selection should Lukhan Salakai-Loto slide from favouritism. Cheika also hinted the days of the "Pooper" combination might be at an end, improving Dempsey's chances of seeing action against Wales and Fiji - which are the Wallabies' two key Pool games.

Jordan Petaia

He is yet to don Wallaby gold on matchday, but Petaia is a player Cheika has been invested in for almost two years now. The 19-year-old Queenslander is the baby of the squad and another player who has been picked on potential rather than recent form. The powerfully-build Petaia played just a game and a half of Super Rugby before injury ended his season and only recently made his return to action via Brisbane club rugby. He was called up to the Wallabies squad for the Bledisloe Cup Tests but saw no action in either Perth or Auckland. Petaia gives the Wallabies another option at outside centre, where James O'Connor currently holds the edge, but there is something special in the uncapped youngster and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him thrust into the big time.


Tom Banks

The Brumbies fullback was one of the stars of the Super Rugby season before he started the Wallabies' first Rugby Championship Test against South Africa. Banks turned in a mixed effort in Johannesburg and only saw time as a replacement thereafter, leading to his omission on Friday. The Wallabies could have used his raw speed but with Petaia getting the nod, Cheika and his fellow selectors deemed there was a need for further backline experience elsewhere which opened up the door for Ashley-Cooper. Banks had clearly dipped below Kurtley Beale in the fullback pecking order and with Dane Haylett-Petty also capable of filling the custodian role, the Brumbies flyer has missed a ticket to Japan. At just 25, Banks will get another crack in four years' time, in France, unless he takes up an overseas offer between now and then.

Tatafu Polota-Nau

The Wallabies opted for three hookers this time around as opposed to just two four years ago, but there was still no room for Tatafu Polota-Nau to reach his third World Cup. The veteran rake has been a little out of sight, out of mind, since his move to Leicester but did return briefly to Sydney this year to fill a short-term contract with the Waratahs. But he saw no time in the Rugby Championship behind Tolu Latu, Folau Fainga'a and Jordan Uelese, the latter earning the third hooker spot more on potential than any recent performances. Uelese has been riddled by injury for the past two years, but has always looked like a player with the potential to compete strongly at Test level. Whether he gets much chance to do so in Japan remains to be seen, but his selection means only injury could see Polota-Nau add to his 87 Test caps.

Joe Powell

The Wallabies don't have scrum-half cover like they did four years ago with Matt Giteau, yet the selectors have again only opted for two specialist No. 9s. That was bad news for Joe Powell, who was clearly well behind both Nic White and Will Genia. Cheika revealed Powell will still head to Noumea for the Wallabies' pre-World Cup camp and alongside Nick Phipps, will need to be ready to step in should either Genia or White go down with injury. Once Cheika signaled his intention to bring White home midway through the Super Rugby it was always be going to be tough for Powell to board the plane for Japan. Another player with youth on his side, this was by no means the 25-year Powell's final shot at a World Cup. Still, Powell will understandably be hurting; so too the other players to miss the 31-man cut.