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Is the next Wallabies golden generation just around the corner?

TimO new author
Roar Rookie
24th March, 2019
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TimO new author
Roar Rookie
24th March, 2019
40
2318 Reads

Over the last year I’ve read a lot of Roarers express worry about what the next generation of Wallabies players and coaches are going to be like. Are enough talented players coming through?

Australia has never had a problem producing enough talented rugby players, except maybe at prop – the only possible problem is retaining them.

I don’t have any ideas today about how to retain them, but here are my thoughts on some talent that’s coming through. This is my future Wallabies squad of 23, plus some other names as extra options.

My criteria were that the players have to either be uncapped and look like future Wallabies or have less than five caps and be good enough to be in the Wallabies now. I was expecting those criteria to lead to a list of players who were mostly young and who weren’t established 2018 Wallabies.

Here’s my list.

1. Jean-Pierre Smith, zero caps
if you’ve got the Smith twins at prop, you should be safe at scrum time. I think he’s about to become eligible for Australia. Or you could go for Harry Johnson-Holmes or Harry Hoopert, both without a cap.

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2. Anaru Rangi, zero caps
Maybe not a third prop like Tatafu Polota-Nau, but about the same weight as Dane Coles. He throws very well into the lineout. He’s like having an extra dynamic, gutsy loose forward around the field.

3. Ruan Smith, zero caps
He’s a rock. See above about his twin. Australia has struggled over the years to produce top-quality props. In New Zealand or England, if a young athlete has a frame like Carl Hayman, he’s probably going to be a rugby union prop, yet in Australia he’s probably going to be a league forward – think Paul Gallen. But at the moment I reckon there are more good props coming through than ever before.

4. Harry Hocking, zero caps
A string-bean lock. He’s very tall, plus he seems to have the skills and the attitude. Hopefully he’ll bulk up a bit, and who better as a coach but Brad Thorn to help him with that. Mind you, there have been some pretty good string-bean locks. Thinks John Eales, Ian Jones et cetera.

5. Jed Holloway, zero caps
He’s a strong ball-running lock or a tall No. 8. You could also pick Matt Phillips (three caps) or Blake Enever (two caps). Australia has always produced world-class locks, like Steve Cutler. Maybe the league scouts don’t want to sign skinny six-foot-seven teenagers.

Jed Holloway

Waratahs player Jed Holloway. (NSW Rugby/Amanda Allen)

6. Luke Jones, three caps
He should have been taken on the 2018 end-of-year tour and should be playing at this year’s World Cup. He’s big, fast, hard-hitting and a genuine lineout target.

7. Liam Wright, zero caps
Maybe the Reds don’t need Liam Gill back after all. Wright would not be out of place in a Wallabies jersey.

8. Isi Naisarani, zero caps
He’s about to become eligible and should be playing at this year’s World Cup. He will bend the opposition line. You could also name Angus Scott-Young or Angus Cottrell as your No. 6 or No. 8.

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9. Tate McDermott, zero caps
Ken Catchpole, Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan, Will Genia, Tate McDermott. What a revelation this little guy has been!

10. Isaac Lucas, zero caps
This is a position where Australia does lack depth, and that’s a problem. However, there are a few young guns who show promise, and most of them are in the Reds squad. It’s a bit early to know which of them will go on to consistently deliver at the top level, but I’ll take a punt and say I think Isaac Lucas looks like he might be a very good Wallabies No. 10 in a year or two.

11. Jordan Petaia, zero caps
He’s a very special talent! Watch this space. He’s destined for the midfield, but it might be better to start his international career from the wing.

Jordan Petaia of the Reds takes on the defence

Reds player Jordan Petaia (AAP Image/Albert Perez)

12. Billy Meakes, zero caps
He’s a hard-running and accurate No. 12 and the most underrated player in the country.

13. Tom English, zero caps
He’s a very good all-round outside centre. This guy would be my pick for Wallabies No. 13 now. But Jordan Petaia’s time as the Wallabies No. 13 is not far away either.

14. Toni Pulu, zero caps
He’s an older late developer, so he’s probably not a long-term prospect, but he’s a real speed merchant and could be a World Cup star. He recently became available for Australia. I was tempted to name Jack Maddocks, who is a very promising young player, but he’s had six caps.

15. Tom Banks, four caps
He should be the Wallabies No. 15 now. Pace to burn.

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16. Jordan Uelese, two caps
He’s the obvious choice – he’s strong and dynamic and might turn out to be a real star in the future. He would bring impact if he came off the bench, but lineout throwing accuracy is a must-have for an international hooker. I hope Uelese has been polishing his during his injury break. Damien Fitzpatrick (zero caps) or Andrew Ready (zero caps) would also be options. Neither of these two are superstars but both can throw straight into the lineout and both have a solid all-round game.

17. Harry Johnson-Holmes, zero caps
This guy looks really promising and could be the full package, but he needs another year or two to hopefully put a bit more meat on his bones. Ditto Harry Hoopert.

Harry Johnson-Holmes celebrates with Waratahs fans.

Waratahs player Harry Johnson-Holmes. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

18. Feao Fotuaika, zero caps
He looks like a powerhouse as long as coaches and a nutritionist look after him. The Reds have him at loosehead, but he can apparently play either side. Jermaine Ainsley (one cap) also has potential.

19. Matt Phillips, three caps
Either Phillips or Blake Enever (two caps) can play here. Or, if you wanted a specialist lineout target, Angus Blyth (zero caps), another very tall and skinny Queenslander. See my comments about Hockling above.

20. Lachlan McCaffrey, zero caps
He’s dynamic, uncompromising and can play all three loose forward positions. He’s the form loosie in Australian Super Rugby. He’s arguably a bit small for an international starting No. 8, but what a guy to bring off the bench!

21. Jake Gordon, one cap
He’s a very good player and unlucky not to have more capss. Also, look out for Moses Sorovi (zero caps).

22. Tom Wright, zero caps
Let’s finish by naming a couple of promising league converts for the backs reserves, which shows young players switching codes isn’t all one-way traffic. Also, keep an eye on Matt McGahan (zero caps).

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23. John Folau, zero 0 caps
He’d have to be pretty good, wouldn’t he?

John Folau of the Parramatta Eels

John Folau in his NRL days playing for the Eels (Naparazzi / Flickr)

What about coaches?

Australia needs a triumvirate, not another single ‘cult of personality’ type.

Head coach: Scott Johnson
This bloke could do the job if well supported. In a perfect world it shouldn’t matter if the next coach is an Aussie, Kiwi, Saffa or Martian, but the reality is that if he’s not an Aussie, then the likes of Alan Jones will be putting the knife in at every opportunity.

Assistant coach, backs: Dave Wessels
I’m not sure if this guy is the real deal or not, but he seems smart and dedicated. He might be a future Wallabies head coach, but at the moment he could at least do a good job as an assistant coach.

Assistant coach, forwards: Brad Thorn
I can understand why some people don’t like how he treated some previous players, and I’m not sure he was what it takes to ever be a really good international head coach, but he absolutely could do the job as Wallabies forwards coach. I pity the fool who turns up unfit for Brad’s preseason training.

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In summary, how would this future Wallabies team go against the 2018 Wallabies? First, the future Wallabies team would need time to develop combination, so we’d have to assume that.

David Pocock would pilfer a bit of pill off them and Israel Folau would steal a couple of high balls.

The future Wallabies scrum would hold its own, though Harry Johnson-Holmes might struggle against Taniela Tupou a bit when replacements came on the second half. This proposed lineout would work better than the 2018 Wallabies lineout, and with good coaching they’d be smart enough to make that a weapon. In the loose, Michael Hooper and Ned Hanigan would struggle to contain players like Naisarani and Luke Jones.

The backlines would be fairly evenly matched. A lot would depend on whether the future Wallabies halves turn out to be as good as I think they might be. Apart from that, I think the future Wallabies could have an edge.

Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale would not enjoy having the likes of Jones, Naisarani, Holloway and Meakes run at them all day, and the future Wallabies outside backs would have a bit more pace and a higher work rate than the 2018 Wallabies.

I’d be putting my cash on the future Wallabies winning by under 12.

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The Wallabies have had golden eras in the past, and they’ll have them again. Who knows if one is just around the corner? The future looks bright!