We’ve now all seen enough of Super Rugby AU to pick a Wallaby side on form.
It’s impossible to know what Dave Rennie makes of it all so far, but I’d say he felt mighty relieved watching the Brumbies against the Reds on Saturday. Finally, a top-class game of rugby the equal of those we see regularly across the Tasman.
To be honest, when Rennie picks his side I hope he grasps the nettle and goes with both Australian-based players and youth. There is an astonishingly good crop of 18 to 24-year-olds who need to be promoted ahead of the likes of Rob Simmons and Kurtley Beale. Other players like Izack Rodda, Will Skelton and Samu Kerevi are rightly not eligible.
If ever there was a moment to take a chance and give the new generation time to bed in as a squad it is during a disrupted Test schedule that may be severely impacted for the next 12-24 months.
My selection is who I think should be picked on form, not necessarily who I think will be picked. For example, I’m sure Dave Rennie will be hesitant to pick too green a pack which may spell great news for Michael Hooper.
While there is plenty of promise in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, the 23-man side below is dominated by the Brumbies and the Reds who are the leading side and form side respectively.
The Brumbies are perhaps the best exponents of the highly controversial but effective rolling maul in provincial rugby. More importantly, they have a hooker who can throw straight(ish) and a functioning lineout.
Although the Reds starting front row is more than competent and the Force props have been resilient at the set-piece, it is impossible to deny the Brumbies front row is the best in Australia.
Starters: Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa
Reserves: James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Taniela Tupou
Squad: Jordan Uelese, Chris Heiberg, Maurice Longbottom
Kane Douglas and James Horwill are long gone. Simmons is off to London Irish but will be eligible for selection. Rodda and Skelton remain offshore and short of the 60 caps needed to be considered. Both would be starters or at least in the 23 if playing Super Rugby.
Enter Nick Frost, a 2.06m ex-Crusader development squad 20-year-old and Fergus Lee-Warner, who has carried and locked with character and passion for the Force. They are not ready to face down the Eben Etzebeths, Sam Whitelocks and Maro Itojes of this world but, along with Queensland’s Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, they are the form locks of Super Rugby AU.
Starters: Nick Frost, Fergus Lee-Warner
Reserve: Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
Squad: Angus Blyth, Matt Philip
Liam Wright has been outstanding both as a leader and player for the Reds. Solid at the line-out (when hookers are throwing straight) and good in close he reminds me of Scott Fardy. He beats out Lachlan Swinton of the Waratahs who has been abrasive and willing, if a little ill-disciplined.
Seven is the perennial dog fight at the selection table. It’s no different this year. For me, Will Miller and perhaps even Fraser McReight have been better than Michael Hooper during Super Rugby AU. McReight is still a little too raw and needs to learn not every breakdown is a turnover opportunity but, barring injury, will probably play seven at the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and 2027. Miller pips McReight for on-field maturity.
The form number eight of the competition must be Harry Wilson. He has outshone both Pete Samu and Isi Naisarani, especially with his incisive running and ball carrying. He plays in s style reminiscent of Toutai Kefu and will grow into his body as he ages.
Starters: Liam Wright, Will Miller, Harry Wilson
Reserve: Isi Naisarani
Squad: Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Fraser McReight, Pete Samu
Will Genia is gone and it has to be said there is a huge opening for Nic White once he gets back in the Super Rugby groove.
Picking on form and out of Super Rugby AU, the form no.9 is Joe Powell of the Brumbies closely followed by Tate McDermott of the Reds. Both very similar players who no doubt will be looking over their shoulders as White makes a run at the side from the wider squad.
Starter: Joe Powell
Reserve: Tate McDermott
Squad: Nic White
There has been a lot of talk about the now-injured Noah Lolesio and Waratah youngster Will Harrison. Fact is both Matt Toomua and James O’Connor have performed miles better, to such an extent that you can’t promote youth ahead of them.
Starter: Matt Toomua
Reserve: James O’Connor
Squad: Noah Lolesio, Will Harrison
My pick at 12, based on form, is James O’Connor. He is the perfect compliment to Toomua and just because he has played with a 10 on his back makes no difference. These days it’s interchangeable.
If we are picking 13 on the form then it must be Hunter Paisami. He has taken his chance at the Reds following injury to Jordan Petaia and deserves first crack at the jumper. His hard running, aggressive style is just what the Wallabies need to straighten the attack.
Starters: James O’Connor, Hunter Paisami
Squad: Tevita Kuridrani, Jordan Petaia
The best winger in Super Rugby AU this year is not even a contest – Tom Wright of the Brumbies. Immensely impressive and has everyone’s attention. Marika Koroibete is a distant second best, while Reece Hodge makes the bench due to his versatility and kicking.
Starters: Tom Wright, Marika Koroibete
Reserve: Reece Hodge
Squad: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Filipo Daugunu
All five fullbacks have played beautifully and deserve consideration. Jack Maddocks beats out both Tom Banks and Jock Campbell on form and size respectively. Campbell definitely has something about him but is too slight to play full back at Test level just yet. Banks’ form has tailed off leaving the versatile but dynamic Maddocks as most worthy.
Starter: Jack Maddocks
Reserve: Tom Banks
Squad: Dane Haylett-Petty
1. Scott Sio, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Nick Frost, 5. Fergus Lee-Warner, 6. Liam Wright (c), 7. Will Miller, 8. Harry Wilson; 9. Will Powell, 10. Matt Toomua, 11. Tom Wright, 12. James O’Connor, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Marika Koroibete, 15. Jack Maddocks
16. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17. James Slipper, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20. Isi Naisarani, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Tevita Kuridrani, 23. Reece Hodge
Hooker: Jordan Uelese
Props: Chris Heiberg, Maurice Longbottom
Locks: Angus Blyth, Matt Philip
Back Row: Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Fraser McReight, Pete Samu
Halves: Nic White, Will Harrison, Noah Lolesio
Centre: Jordan Petaia*
Back three: Mark Nawaquanitawase, Filipo Daugunu, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tom Banks
(*Toomua, O’Connor, Paisami, Kuridrani, Hodge and Maddocks can all play centre if needed.)