Koroibete risk is worth taking

Rebels winger Marika Koroibete is something of an anomaly in this Wallabies team.

His introduction into the Wallabies has been so gradual it gives the impression that Michael Cheika is a conservative selector.

Cheika has been anything but in other areas but while others were handed their starts Koroibete has had to wait. It is now 10 months since Koroibete made his initial appearance in a non-Test fixture against the French Barbarians.

Cheika has either shown he is more methodical than first meets the eye or he simply realised early on how much polishing this potential diamond needed.

And Koroibete needed work. His Rebels debut against the Hurricanes was a struggle. Not only did his positioning look bad but he didn't look to have the beating of Julian Savea for pace, and Savea wouldn't be in the top five in New Zealand, probably not even top 10.

Then again Koroibete may have had a reason. He looked troubled by a knee on that sunny Wellington afternoon and watching him closely for the rest of the year I think he may have been inhibited for at least half the season.

Still, he doesn't look the type that goes looking for excuses.

But after that debut, two things started to happen that brought Koroibete to this point in South Africa.

First, he started to learn the game and narrow down the areas where teams could target him. He made himself less of a risk.

Second, his rivals for the Wallabies jersey - and here I think he is going up directly against Eto Nabuli and Henry Speight - didn't take ownership of the jersey. Speight has been decent but decent doesn't cut it at the top level when you are trying to progress the team. The Wallabies need one wing who is doing something special.

So they have arrived at Koroibete knowing that he is far from the finished product but has delivered enough on the potential they saw in him at the Storm.

It hasn't been an easy path for Koroibete. Our friends in the 13-man code no doubt thought he was going to walk into the Wallabies and start carving teams up but that was never going to happen.

There were speedbumps. In fact he became one himself when Ned Hanigan ran over the top of him in Melbourne but slowly Koroibete started to increase the number of involvements that highlighted the good things about his game - his carries and his finishing. He's at his best when he is hovering around the halfback looking for a gap or with turnover ball.

But by the end of the Super Rugby season he was just a threat, pure and simple. The pace was there. It was a minor surprise not to see him involved during the June series, although this was perhaps a nod to some of the positional aspects of the game.

For there are two areas Koroibete does not want to find himself in against the Springboks. The first is dealing with any ball over his head. He actually looks reasonable under the high ball but when he is forced to turn it exposes his lack of a kicking game and instinct to run sideways, which can be so costly in Test rugby.

The second is defending from a Springboks scrum if the home side have a decent blindside to work with. Of course, every winger can be exposed in this situation but Koroibete's tendency - at least in Super Rugby - to rush up and smack the ball carrier, be it the No. 8 or halfback, creates an easy overlap for the winger outside.

Presumably, these are the things the Springboks have been looking at and there is no doubt that in handing him a debut against South Africa in Bloemfontein Cheika is heightening the risk in picking him.

Yet the Wallabies have been crying out for something more from their wingers. Koroibete has shown flashes of it. The selection has merit, regardless of the outcome.

This story Koroibete risk is worth taking first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.