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HomeSportsWhat the Wallabies' World Cup squad could look like

What the Wallabies’ World Cup squad could look like

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There are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered about an injury-ravaged Wallabies team nine months out from the Rugby World Cup.

More than 50 players donned Wallaby gold throughout a tough international campaign which was defined by injuries, poor discipline, and an inability to close out tight Test matches.

Australia started their international season with a thrilling win over England in Perth, before losing their next two Test matches against their rivals on home soil.

The Wallabies lost four of their next six matches following their July internationals, including an emphatic loss to Argentina in Mendoza and a controversial defeat to the All Blacks in Melbourne.

While wins still proved hard to come by throughout their end-of-season tour – losing three matches in a row by three points or less – they did come close to beating both Ireland and France.

But five wins from 14 matches is by no means a passing grade for a former giant of international rugby.

How the mighty have fallen.

But don’t rule them out from doing something special in France next year.

Coach Dave Rennie is going to have to make some difficult selection decisions leading into the World Cup though – Super Rugby has never been so important for such a big group of Australian talent.

When the Wallabies name their World Cup squad next year, 33-players will realise their childhood dreams of representing their nation on the sports biggest stage.

But there were 51 players who represented the Wallabies this year, and that’s not including some injured stars, so it’s just simple math: world class players are going to miss out.

One positional group which seems relatively clear cut at this stage is prop, with the Wallabies having some impressive depth in the position on both sides of the scrum.

Captain James Slipper is a certainty for the squad, should he be fit and available, as is Allan Alaalatoa, Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou.

No elaboration is really needed for these four players, considering how important they are to the Wallabies’ tight five – they’ll be on the plane, lock it in.

There were five other props who played international rugby this year, but only two more spots remain.

Tom Robertson may have only played four Test matches off the bench this year, but his experience will be incredibly valuable when and if he’s called upon, so he’s likely to make it.

As for the one other spot, there are a number of quality players who could rightly be called upon by Dave Rennie, including experienced campaigner Scott Sio.

While Scott Sio is a veteran of Test match rugby, having played in the 2015 World Cup final against the All Blacks, the 31-year-old simply doesn’t offer as much as some other players.

Rising star Pone Fa’amausili and the injured Harry Johnson-Holmes may end up battling it out, with next year’s Super Rugby season set to be a crucial period for both tighthead props.

While Fa’amausili is an incredibly exciting and destructive player, Johnson-Holmes has proved himself in the past as a reliable option for the Waratahs.

Not only does he make his mark around the field, but Johnson-Holmes can be a game-changer at the set-piece, and the Wallabies may need that after being overpowered in some Tests this year.

Moving onto another position which seems all but locked up, three players impressed at hooker for the Wallabies this season, but the starting jersey may still be up for grabs.

David Porecki started eight Test matches this year and made cameos off the bench in another two, and clearly appears to be the frontrunner for the No. 2 jersey in 2023.

But Folau Fainga’a and Lachlan Lonergan both had the chance to start Tests this year as well, with Fainga’a ending the year in the first XV against Wales.

But Lonergan was the hero that night, scoring a try and making a match-winning steal at the breakdown.

The former Junior Wallabies representative has been touted as a star of tomorrow, but there’s no reason why he can’t start in the gold jersey next year if he impresses during Super Rugby.

Some of the biggest selection controversies will involve Australia’s second row, where some truly talented players will have to miss out.

Australia’s two starting locks in their season opener against England were Darcy Swain and Cadeyrn Neville – but both players might miss out.

Swain has come a long way since making his NRC and Super Rugby debuts a few years ago now, and he’s carried that leadership and skillset into the Test arena. But poor discipline defined his season, as he received both a red and yellow card during the year that was.

As for Neville, he was a reliable option at the set-piece for the men in gold, but at 34-years-old can he be considered one of the four best locks in the country?

Instead, rising star Nick Frost will likely make the squad along with Will Skelton and Matt Philip.

If the Wallabies select four second rowers in their World Cup squad, then the one other spot may end up going to a player who has been in international rugby wilderness for quite some time now.

Izack Rodda was a star of Australian rugby a few years ago before he left, and while he didn’t play a Test this year, the 26-year-old will be too hard to ignore if he can star in Super Rugby next year.

Rob Valetini is coming off a career-best campaign in the gold jersey, where he may have propelled himself into the conversion for the best Number Eight in the world.

He was just that good.

Valetini will certainly made the squad, presuming he’s injury-free, along with Michael Hooper and Pete Samu – with six loose forwards set to be picked.

While there will be some debate and discussion surrounding the other three spots, Hooper’s understudy Fraser McReight simply has to be there.

McReight did the Wallaby jersey justice while Hooper was unavailable during a stretch of Tests this year.

Should Hooper go down injured, the Wallabies will want to be able to turn to another player who can poach at the breakdown and lead by example.

Don’t be surprised if McReight captains the Wallabies one day.

McReight has been of Australia’s best players at Super Rugby level for a couple of years now, as he’s packed down in the most exciting backrow in the country alongside Harry Wilson and Liam Wright.

Wilson was dropped from the Wallabies squad this year, having played just two Test matches. But after a full pre-season with the Reds, and a strong Super campaign, the versatility loose forward should have done enough to earn a recall.

Finally, Jed Holloway was phenomenal in the gold jersey this year, and he made the No. 6 jersey his own for much of the campaign.

Holloway also played in the second row a couple of times this year, and that versatility cannot be ignored.

These selections would mean that the injured Lachie Swinton, who was powerful at blindside flanker when he entered the fray of Test rugby, wouldn’t complete his comeback.

Moving onto the backs and halfback is another position which seems relatively straight forward ahead of the World Cup.

Nic White made the most of every opportunity to shine in the No. 9 jersey this year, and will likely start for the Wallabies at next year’s World Cup.

But White faced some tough competition this year from emerging star Tate McDermott, who was able to change Test matches when he came off the bench.

McDermott may be Australia’s first choice halfback at the 2027 World Cup, but for now he’ll have to ply his trade behind one of the best scrum-halfs in rugby today.

But don’t forget about Jake Gordon, who started more Test matches this year than McDermott.

The Waratahs star had some disciplinary issues during the end-of-season tour which marred some of his performances, but he’s a class player and Dave Rennie knows that.

Gordon could potentially line up in Wallaby gold along with Waratahs teammate Tane Edmed, who is a genuine bolter for the Wallabies.

The fly-half burst onto the Super Rugby scene a couple of years ago and hasn’t looked out of place since. Edmed was also involved in the Australian A team this year.

But the Wallabies will probably select two pivots in their squad, and it would be baffling if either of these players were to miss out.

Quade Cooper and Noah Lolesio are the logical choices at first-five for the men in gold, although the former missed a majority of this season with some injuries.

As for Lolesio, the rising star was only picked in the No. 10 jersey on six occasions this year, with five players having started in that jumper in 2022.

One of those players was forgotten superstar James O’Connor, who consistently been one of the best players in Australian Super Rugby over the past few years.

O’Connor was dropped from the Wallabies following their disastrous defeat against Argentina in Mendoza, and hasn’t been recalled since.

While everyone in the rugby world knows that he can perform across a range of positions, first-five is where he plays his best rugby today – and it might not be enough.

But this probably wouldn’t come as too much of a shock to Australian rugby supporters.

There shouldn’t be any surprises in the midfield either, with Samu Kerevi, Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau having cemented their spots in the side.

Kerevi has been injured for most of this year but will be a major boost to the team when and if he makes his return to the national team.

But the biggest selection headache facing Wallabies selectors is in the outside backs.

If six players are going to be picked in the World Cup squad, then there will be a few shocking omissions from the team.

World class winger Marika Koroibete, Tom Wright, Andrew Kellaway and Jordan Petaia will all make the squad if they’re healthy and available.

All three players have shown in the past that they are too good not to be included in the squad, with Wright having been especially impressive during 2022.

Bolter Mark Nawaqanitawase has only played three Test matches in the coveted gold jersey, but he’s been more than impressive every time he’s taken the field.

Nawaqanitawase ended his year with a Player of the Match performance against Wales in Cardiff, where his two tries in 10 minutes led Australia’s incredible resurgence away from home.

As for the one other spot, there are four players who could rightly make this team.

Suliasi Vunivalu probably won’t make the squad, after failing to make the most of his opportunities at Test level and with Australia A this year.

The former Melbourne Storm flyer just hasn’t been the same player in the 15-man game, and will need to do something special in Super Rugby next year if he is to force his way back into the national setup.

Another option for the Wallabies is Jock Campbell, who more than held his own against World No. 2 France in Paris last month.

The Wallabies a genuine fullback in their squad – not just someone who can cover that role – and that plays into Campbell’s favour.

But unfortunately for the Reds utility back, he’d likely be pipped in that race by Tom Banks.

Banks would then be pitted in a selection showdown with Reece Hodge, who has been so valuable to the Wallabies for quite some time.

Hodge can kick the ball a ridiculous distance and there’s no questioning how important that could be in tight Test matches, but generally around the park he just doesn’t offer enough.

Australia’s Mr Fix It is versatile and can do a job in practically any jersey in the backline, but that’s not enough.

While Banks was injured a bit this season, the former Brisbane Boys’ College student won’t be left out.

 

Early Wallabies 2023 Rugby World Cup squad

Props: Allan Alaalatoa, Angus Bell, Harry Johnson-Holmes, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Tom Robertson

Outside looking in: Scott Sio, Matt Gibbon, Sam Talakai

 

Hooker: David Porecki, Folau Fainga’a, Lachlan Lonergan

Bolter: Billy Pollard

 

Lock: Izack Rodda, Nick Frost, Matt Philip, Will Skelton

Outside looking in: Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain

Bolter: Trevor Hosea

 

Back row: Fraser McReight: Harry Wilson, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini

Outside looking in: Lachie Swinton, Langi Gleeson, Liam Wright Rob Leota, Ned Hanigan

 

Halfback: Jake Gordon, Nic White, Tate McDermott

Outside looking in: Ryan Lonergan

 

Flyhalf: Noah Lolesio; Quade Cooper

Outside looking in: Ben Donaldson, Bernard Foley, James O’Connor

Bolter: Tane Edmed

 

Midfield: Hunter Paisami, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi

Outside looking in: Irae Simone, Lalakai Foketi

 

Outside backs: Andrew Kellaway, Jordan Petaia, Marika Koroibete, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Tom Banks, Tom Wright

Outside looking in: Jock Campbell, Reece Hodge, Suliasi Vunivalu


Credit: sportingnews.com

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