The Rugby World Cup is about timing. From a squad perspective it's about peaking over three crucial matches until the grand finale.
But players tasked with breaking into the squad for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at Rugby World Cup glory are presented with a different challenge. They've got to play the house down over the entire Super Rugby season. Adding fresh faces always poses a risk and selectors will demand consistently outstanding performances from hopeful newcomers.
Let's take a look at some of the players who've forced their way into minds of selectors over the early rounds of Super Rugby.
I'll call this one early; if fit, Vaea will go to the World Cup. Life-threatening blood clots seemed to have rubbed the Tongan powerhouse out of the game in 2012. Told he would never play again and only added to the Brumbies match-day squad due to an injury to Fotu Auelua, Vaea is now well on his way to completing a remarkable comeback. His running game skittles even the most committed defenders and his defensive work is equally damaging. Much more than just a physical weapon, Vaea is an intelligent footballer who consistently makes good decisions with ball in hand and at the breakdown.
Timani is another player of Tongan decent who is stamping his mark on Super Rugby. Lopeti's older brother, Sitaleki, won eighteen caps for the Wallabies before moving to France. Like his older sibling, Lopeti's game is marked by brutal power and athleticism. The second rower plays much like an extra flanker, providing mobility rarely seen in a lock. While his game is still dotted with the odd mistake, he has time to iron these blemishes out of his play before the World Cup squad is selected.
The man known as 'Bongo' to his mates became the Steven Bradbury of Australian rugby last year. As rake after rake succumbed to injury, the impossible suddenly became real and Mann-Rea is now a bonafide Wallabies hooker. While many pundits suspect that he will return to his place at the end of the pecking order, I wouldn't be surprised to see Josh on a flight to England in September. He has the right temperament for Test rugby, he's tough and surprisingly skilful for a thirty-four-year-old journeyman and he will never let his team down.
Pocock can't technically be considered a bolter; not with forty-odd Test matches under his belt and having played a starring role in the previous World Cup tournament. But reduced to a handful of appearances in recent years and having picked up an injury in his comeback match, his journey to the World Cup isn't getting easier. Pocock's comeback suggested that the only thing between him and a Word Cup berth is his ability to remain injury-free. World-class players and genuine leaders who command universal respect are extremely rare, and Australian selectors will be hoping Pocock's body holds up over the rest of the year.
Remember the one-Test wonder from back in 2012 who retired from all forms of the game last year? That guy should go to the World Cup. Dan Palmer, now coaching the Brumbies scrum, is exactly the technical expert the Wallabies need. The scrum is the single biggest area of concern for Australian rugby. On the basis of the Brumbies' scrum improvement in a matter of months under Palmer's tutelage, the Wallabies should lock his services in now.
Flight Centre is an official travel agent for Rugby World Cup 2015.