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Lucky 13: The race for the Wallabies outside centre jersey

Curtis Rona of Waratahs scores a try during a match between Jaguares and Waratahs as part of fourth round of Super Rugby at Jose Amalfitani Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
13th April, 2018
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2162 Reads

Being nearly halfway through the 2018 Super Rugby season gives us a sense of where players are at in the pecking order for different positions in the Wallabies for the June test series and beyond.

One position incumbent player who shouldn’t be too comfortable based on his performance this season and the availability of quality competition is the outside centre position. Let’s look at the most likely possibilities for the Wallabies number 13.

Tevita Kuridrani
I have been a huge fan of Kuridrani’s rock wall defence and game-breaking try-scoring ability. However, I can’t remember seeing his attacking game at close to its best in the last year. This Super Rugby season he’s making an average of only 50 run metres from seven runs per game.

His defensive stats aren’t very good either, with Fox Sports Lab giving him a tackle effectiveness rating of 68 per cent. Fox defensive stats are harsher to some stats as the TE rating is calculated using missed tackles and ineffective tackles, while others just use missed tackles, but even so this is a mediocre effort.

He needs to get his act together, because right now he doesn’t look like he deserves a Wallabies starting spot.

tevita-kuridrani-rugby-union-australia-wallabies-2016

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Samu Kerevi
A competitor with Kuridrani for the Wallabies 13 last year, Kerevi is a blockbuster in attack, leading in key attacking stats for the candidates with an average of 90 run metres from 11.2 runs. However, his defence is terrible, with a tackle efficiency rating of 65 per cent that is explained by watching him defend.

He constantly makes poor decisions – not running out of the line when he should, running out when he shouldn’t, trying to tackle already marked players, flailing his arms like a helicopter, missing tackles entirely and falling off apparently completed tackles.

He does a bit better in defence at 12 than 13, but really his defence isn’t even good enough for an international bench player.

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Part of the problem may be that the Reds are overusing him in attack, as evidenced by what I saw from behind the posts in the Suncorp game against the Brumbies. He would hit the ball up on one side of the park and then run the breadth within a phase to do the same on the other.

I suspect he might just be too knackered to defend when it is time to do so, so the Reds need to better share the attacking load.

The Reds coaching staff also need to work hard with him to improve his defence. He is getting away with it at Super Rugby level, but if Kerevi starts finding it hard to make the Wallabies, he will become frustrated and become a flight risk to overseas clubs. That would be a tragic loss for all concerned.

Samu Kerevi

(Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

Curtis Rona
While Rona has played winger early in the season, the Tahs seem to have settled on him playing centre in the last couple of games. I rate Rona as the player most likely to leapfrog Kerevi and to pinch the Wallabies 13 from Kuridrani this year.

Already capped, Rona has a nose for the line, a hard edge and is rated by Michael Cheika. He defends better than both the blokes ahead of him at 76 per cent and has been doing more in attack than Kuridrani at 76 run metres from eight runs. Watch this space.

Curtis Rona

(Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images)

Chris Feauai-Sautia
A dark-horse candidate after several years of poor form and injuries, Feiuai-Sautia has shifted into 13 from the wing at the Reds in recent games and is doing a damn good job of it.

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What will be a surprise to many from a bloke with a reputation for not being the most solid defender, CFS has the highest tackle efficiency of the lot at 84 per cent.

He could do more in attack than his contribution of six runs and 46 metres per game, but what the stats don’t tell is that CFS has a bit of magic in him, with a knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time and working with his teammates to construct spectacular tries.

Michael Cheika might be tempted to give him a run to throw Ireland a curveball in June, with his ability to cover the wing being a bonus.

Chris Feauai-Sautia

(AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Other candidates include Tom English, Lalakai Foketi, Reece Hodge and Izaia Perese. I would argue that English and Foketi aren’t quite up to the standard of the four above at this stage, though they are good to have available in the case of an injury crisis, while Hodge and Perese have talents that I reckon are better used as a utility back and a winger respectively.

It is great to have such depth at 13, though, both to motivate the incumbents and to replace them if they don’t step up.