It’s up to you how you want to judge the Wallabies in 2020. One win from six games doesn’t sound great, but then two losses in six outings don’t sound too bad, all things considered in this funny old year.
However you view the numbers, there is a common thread of missed opportunities caused mostly by questionable performances throughout the six games.
The decision-making, the ball-handling, the lineout-throwing, the goal-kicking, the tackle technique, the captaincy; it’s all there.
But perhaps the hardest thing to take for Wallabies fans in 2020 is that after so much promise at the start of the international season here, we’re no further advanced than when before the squad first came together.
All the questions that lingered from the World Cup, and even after the split Super Rugby seasons this year, are all still there.
Like, what is Reece Hodge’s best position?
He was more than serviceable at flyhalf in his two Tests against New Zealand in Brisbane and Argentina in Newcastle, but never seen as a long-term prospect.
Injuries to Matt To’omua and James O’Connor forced Dave Rennie’s hand, having decided that starting a Test match maybe wasn’t the job for Noah Lolesio just yet. Will Harrison was in the Wallabies squad throughout the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations.
Hodge was the man for the moment, but that moment lasted just two games, with James O’Connor returning for the last match of the tournament, though he still wasn’t at full fitness. It meant that after three years between stints at flyhalf and lots of time in the centres and on the wings, both as a starter and off the bench, Hodge was heading for a new position: fullback.
Not entirely new, obviously; he’s spent plenty of time in the Melbourne Rebels number 15 over the years, and many think 15 might be his best spot at Test level. Others reckon his best spot is inside centre. And there’s still a train of thought that says his straight running and solid defence is well suited to outside centre.
Hodge, like he did at flyhalf, and like he does in every jersey he’s worn at Test level, did a more than serviceable job at fullback against Argentina in Sydney. He’s proven that if the situation arose again, he would be well suited to play there again.
But quite whether he can make fullback his position at Test level remains to be seen, because Reece Hodge just has never been able to make any one position his own. That’s just as true for the Rebels as it is for the Wallabies.
And that begs another question: is it up to Dave Rennie to find Hodge’s best spot, or is it up to Hodge to perform in one spot such that his selection is demanded?
Is lock really as well-served as the consistent selection this year suggests?
In a squad that when first announced had four specialist locks, and a couple of others that could cover the second row if required, it did seem that Rennie might have been right when he declared that wasn’t going to use the tweaks to the Giteau Law that he was granted to select players from overseas.
Injury to Rory Arnold put paid to the idea anyway, and recalling Izack Rodda the same year he deserted his Queensland mates in the middle of universal pay cuts would never have gone down well.
Yet after six Tests, only three of those specialists were used.
Matt Philip was one of the Wallabies’ best in 2020 and should be in John Eales Medal calculations. Rob Simmons is resigned to have possibly played his last Test, but well and truly proved he still has plenty of offer, if called upon once he heads to England. And Lukhan Salakaia-Loto started strongly, picked up an injury, returned, and was sent off and then suspended.
Despite being named back in August, highly regarded Rebels lock Trevor Hosea was never sighted. Brumbies veteran Caderyn Neville was added as cover for Salakaia-Loto but then wasn’t used and was in fact released from the squad early. Ned Hanigan and Rob Valetini were both named as lock cover on the bench for one match each.
So given the Wallabies started this campaign looking a bit light-on in the row, why didn’t Hosea and Neville get what would have been deserved opportunities? Why didn’t the Wallabies use 2020 of all seasons to blood some new stock?
Taniela Tupou: to start, or not to start?
After an outstanding Super Rugby AU campaign for the Reds, Tupou was rewarded with a start in the first two Bledisloe Cup Tests and no-one could argue. But those two run-on appearances didn’t go so well, and Brumbies captain Allan Ala’alatoa was recalled for the last two. Then Tupou started against Argentina in Newcastle, and Ala’alatoa returned to the starting side in Sydney.
The conundrum remains the same. Tupou brings great impact off the bench, but can’t make the same impact last from kick-off. Ala’alatoa is a sound starter, but is prone to dropping intensity and doesn’t offer anything close to Tupou’s impact off the bench.
And after six Tests, we’re no closer to finding an answer.
Furthermore, there are numerous other questions that remain unanswered too.
Is Jordan Petaia being overhyped? Who is the best lineout thrower in Australian rugby? How many more times can Joe Powell be selected in a national squad and not used?
Wallabies fans are used to looking at a new year with renewed hope, but what has been renewed this year?
And what questions remained unanswered for you, after this weird year of rugby?