By Rowan Birch
The Wallabies had on the whole a 'decent' year in 2012. The Queensland Reds won the Super Rugby championship plus the Wallabies won the Tri Nations and collected a bronze medal at the World Cup. The year was topped off with a win against Wales at the Millennium stadium. The Aussies successful year was graced with fantastic form from Scott Higginbotham, the brilliant David Pocock and Radike 'Afro' Samo.
However, there was also a sour taste left in the mouth of the Australians. Not only did they lose in the semi-final of the World Cup to 'the Enemy' but they also got well beat by Ireland in the group stage. Even worse though, the form of some of the Wallabies top players dropped significantly heading into the world cup, which led to doubt over their position in the team.
But 2012 has brought new challenges for the Wallabies. After 12 rounds, the only Aussie team in the top 8 are the Brumbies, which is not what Robbie Deans would have wanted from his players.
But after the Super Rugby and the summer tour of the Home Nations, the Wallabies will compete in this years inaugural Rugby Championship. The chances of them being successful in this championship depends on the form and fitness of the likes of Beale, Pocock, James 'Beiber' O'Connor and Cooper. But who will play where?
The first thing in Deans's mind is 'Will Cooper be fit?'. If he is, Cooper will almost certainly play there and link up with his Queensland partner Genia. However, if there are any doubts what-so-ever, the Waikato born second five eight will more than likely be rested throughout the most(if not whole) of the Rugby Championship. That is a problem, but a problem that can be solved in the shape of Christian Lealiifano, the Brumbies ten.
He's had a great Super Rugby season so far, scoring points for fun which has put the Brumbies top of the Australian conference. Although never capped for Australia, he offers a similar style of player to Cooper, which may benefit the rest of the squad. Also, Deans is unlikely to select Berrick Barnes as a staring 10 for many reasons. Firstly, Barnes has never really performed in the green and gold of Australia. He is also not fully recovered from his severe concussion last year and Deans has never been a fan of the Brisbane born playmaker. But it all depends on Quade 'He's really a Kiwi' Coopers fitness.
Deans will also have questions about his hookers. Does he go for Stephen Moore; a hard hitting, all round great footballer? Or does he go for Tatafu 'TPN' Palota-Nau; the hard hitting wrecking ball? Or lastly, does he has faith for the flamboyant Saia Fainga'a; a mobile hooker who acts as a 6, not a 2? This is a problem Deans needs to sort before the Rugby Championship.
The next area is the no.8 position. The athletic Radike Samo stole the no.8 position of Ben McCalman last year after a superb Super 15 season. However, with the Fiji born star ageing rapidly, does Deans look to the future or play with his experienced Samo? McCalman has been on poor form of late and is currently injured, so this is a great opportunity for Samo to try and cement his place as the Wallabies no.8. With McCalman not a problem, and Waratahs 8 Palu 'past it' Samo should be ready to play a major part for the Wallabies this summer.
And last question Deans should answer as soon as possible, is where does James O'Connor play. He is a huge talent, so Deans will try and play him in the position where he will be most effective, not just to fit in. As he can play almost anywhere across the back line, Deans has a wide choice of where to play him. He is a great winger, but if he plays alongside Ashley-Cooper in midfield, he will get more time on the ball and it allows the likes of Ioane, Mitchell and Davies a chance to get into the side.
So with the Rugby Championship only a few months away, Australia are watching the form and fitness of their key players to give them an indication as to how well they expect to do this summer.
Follow Rowan on Twitter @rowanbirch