By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tom Banks has long been known for his blistering pace and the ACT Brumbies fullback is also showing a knack for timing as his strong run of form leaves him well placed to grab Israel Folau’s vacant Wallabies jersey ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
With the Brumbies the only Australian team to make the Super Rugby playoffs, the 25-year-old Queenslander has had the perfect stage to impress Wallabies coach Michael Cheika with his rivals for the number 15 shirt left on the sidelines.
A couple of Banks line-breaks helped set up two of the Brumbies’ tries in their 38-13 quarter-final win over the Sharks in Canberra over the weekend and he will look to sustain his strong form against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Friday.
A win over the Argentine side would secure the Dan McKellar-coached Brumbies their first final since 2013 and a shot at their first championship since the last of their two titles in 2004.
Banks has every reason to believe he can play a meaningful part in Buenos Aires, having proved himself something of a road warrior this season.
He has scored a try in seven of the Brumbies’ last eight matches outside of Australia, including one in the 20-15 defeat by the Jaguares in April, the last time the teams met.
Banks has plenty of fans among past Wallabies players and media pundits, including former Australia and Brumbies outside back Joe Roff, who rates him the “complete” package.
But Banks, who made his test debut last year, is reluctant to look too far ahead.
“You’ve probably got to put (the World Cup) aside,” he said.
“It’s in a lot of people’s minds at the moment but my sole focus at the moment is definitely the Brumbies and inadvertently if we can do really well as a team and get deep into the finals that will really help our World Cup chances.”
Folau was Cheika’s go-to fullback for most of his 73 tests but the dual international was sacked last month for a controversial social media post and has launched legal proceedings against Rugby Australia.
Melbourne Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty and New South Wales Waratahs utility back Kurtley Beale are also in the running for the Wallabies number 15 jersey and both have experience wearing it.
But with their teams eliminated from Super Rugby, neither have another chance to stake their claim before Cheika picks his squad for the abridged Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies won only four of their 13 tests last year, their worst season in decades, and their prospects of winning a third World Cup in Japan seem gloomy.
However, Banks says Cheika need only look to the Australian capital to find players ready to bring a winning mindset into Wallabies camp.
“It’s been a really good journey for me, my time down here in Canberra has been really enjoyable,” said Banks, who joined the Brumbies in 2017 after managing only two appearance in two seasons for the Queensland Reds.
“I think the culture down here is the best team culture I’ve been a part of.
“They probably bring the best out of players.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)