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The Test winger merry-go-round

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Roar Rookie
22nd November, 2018
27

Piling misery onto the Wallabies seems to have become one of my preferred pastimes.

In one sense I’m disappointed in my pessimism, but in another I believe that unsuccessful teams play their way into the line of judgment, thus justifying my gloom. With that in mind, who are Michael Cheika’s best starting wingers? I can tell you with confidence that he has no idea, and with one year until Japan 2019, that really worries me.

Here are the players to have appeared on the wing for Australia since the 2015 World Cup. The table shows statistics that correspond to the wing position specifically, with an asterisk next to the players who have made their debut post-World Cup.

Player Apps Starts Subs Tries
Dane Haylett-Petty* 23 22 1 4
Marika Koroibete* 19 18 1 7
Reece Hodge* 17 12 9 4
Henry Speight 14 11 3 3
Sefa Naivalu* 9 5 4 5
Jack Maddocks* 6 2 4 1
Rob Horne 4 3 1 0
Israel Folau 4 4 0 2
Adam Ashley-Cooper 3 3 0 0
Curtis Rona* 3 1 2 1
Tom Banks* 3 0 3 0
Taqele Naiyarovoro 1 0 1 1
Drew Mitchell 1 0 1 0
Eto Nabuli* 1 1 0 0

In total, 14 players have appeared on the wing, with seven debuts. Here’s a brief run-down of each.

Dane Haylett-Petty
The most capped winger since the World Cup, DHP is a solid runner, great under the high ball and attacks the line with vigour. The problem is that his better position is at fullback, and so although he presents a solid, reliable option on the wing, he will never be world class.

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Marika Koroibete
In his first Test start in Brisbane Marika lit up the Springboks with two tries, thereby showcasing his dynamic mix of speed and power. Recently, though, teams have successfully limited his influence both physically and tactically. Hopefully his two-try performance against the Azzurri can spark him back into life.

Reece Hodge
Poor guy. Nobody knows his best position, not even Hodgey himself. Stuck into the line-up at 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, he has been similarly shunted around the Rebels backline. He’s got an imposing skill set and so discovering the position that best utilises this skill set is in the nation’s best interest.

Henry Speight
The main issue with Speight is that he often becomes a passenger in big games by failing to seek out ball in the midfield. He has also struggled to transfer his try-scoring capabilities from Super Rugby to the international arena. There are better options.

Sefa Naivalu
He’s quick and scores tries. Since those are the two things I want most in a winger I reckon Sefa deserves more of a chance to strut his stuff.

Jack Maddocks
The kid scored on his debut, showing he can play. However, the jury is still out on his best position long term. It may be harsh, but he’s essentially a weaker version of a young James O’Connor.

sefania-naivalu-wallabies-rugby-union-australia-2016

(Brian Lawless/PA via AP)

Rob Horne
Unfortunately he’s not in the selection frame for the Wallabies. I was really sad to hear about the career-ending injury he suffered while playing for Leicester Tigers. Horne was a faithful servant to Australian rugby and I wish him all the best in his continued recovery.

Israel Folau
Whether at fullback or on the wing, Folau’s performances have dipped this season. He was ousted by DHP and shunted to the wing for this year’s first Test against Argentina. Predominantly Folau has played his best Test footy at fullback and looks limited on the wing. Keep him at fullback, please, Cheika.

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Adam Ashley-Cooper
AAC played well against Italy, that’s not up for debate. Even so, I think it’s shocking that the Wallabies have now turned to an old bloke who played in the 2007 World Cup. George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and Alastair Baxter were all still playing then. Our squad depth is dreadful.

Curtis Rona
Despite scoring a try on debut, Rona’s performance against New Zealand is up there with the most miserable international debuts I’ve seen. He was repeatedly shown up in defence as the All Blacks piled on an outrageous 40 points in the first half. Regardless, he’s not a winger; he’s an outside centre, so it would be a strange decision to pick him again on the wing.

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Tom Banks
Blessed with pace and agility, I’m really hopeful Banks will be given an actual shot at demonstrating his electricity for the Wallabies. Again, though, Banks is a fullback and so that leads to the obvious selection dilemma of fitting DHP, Folau and him into the same team.

Taqele Naiyaravoro
Taqele was effectively supposed to be Australia’s answer to Julian Savea. However, his defensive fragilities made him too much of a risk to play regularly. He’s now playing for the Northampton Saints and so not in the selection frame.

Drew Mitchell
Once a great Wallaby winger but has since retired.

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Eto Nabuli
Not up to Test standard and was duly discarded by Cheika after one game.

This is my pick for the back three – No.11, Naivalu; No.14, Korobeite; No.15, Folau. Although I’m sure Cheika will disagree.