Following the conclusion of the 2020 international window and ahead of the 2021 Super Rugby season, there is an opportunity for the Super Rugby teams and Wallabies set up to collaborate and work together to get the best out of the current crop of players.
Having continuity across the Super Rugby competition going into the international calendar can only be mutually advantageous.
In particular, by having players playing regularly in the same position for their Super Rugby team will benefit the player when they transfer to the international set up, which will allow them to further develop their game coming up against high quality international players.
Subsequently their Super Rugby teams will reap the benefits with a better player returning.
While there is always positives with versatility, too often Australian players have been shifted into varying positions in an effort to get the most talented players all on the pitch at the same time.
Although the logic does have some merit, by playing regularly in a position both for your club and country will greatly aid in understanding the intricacies and inner workings of that particular position.
Let’s consider some possibilities.
There has been a lot of talk of the Hunter Paisami and Jordan Petaia combination at 12 and 13 for both the Reds and Wallabies.
It was however evident in 2020 that Australia need twin playmakers in the 10 and 12 channels in order to get the best out of the flair players in the other back line positions. The difference in the Wallabies back line play was night and day when James O’Connor and Matt To’omua were paired together at 10 and 12 compared to the other combinations.
By this reckoning Hunter Paisami should remain in the outside centre position that made him catch everyone’s eye for the Reds and in the first Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington.
Paisami showed that he is more than capable in the 13 channel and he needs to be given more match experience in this highly complex position.
The consequence of keeping Paisami at outside centre begs the question of what to do with Jordan Petaia, who has been a regular in this position for the Wallabies in 2020.
Whilst he is still raw, what we have seen from Petaia suggests that his abilities may be better suited at full back.
He would be afforded more space at 15 and provide more opportunities to counter attack creating line breaks for the team, and he is also comfortable under the high ball.
Fullback is at the moment a very open position for the Wallabies and one where a highly skillful and explosive player who can create chances would prove invaluable.
The benefit for Queensland Reds is that it will allow both Hamish Stewart and Paisami to continue their flourishing partnership in the midfield and if Josh Flook lives up to this potential, he could provide genuine competition for places in the Reds midfield.
The fact that at 26 Reece Hodge still does not have a regular position is an indictment on Australian rugby.
Looking at his attributes and the current crop of Australian backs, Hodge would be handy addition at inside centre for the Melbourne Rebels, allowing for twin playmakers at 10 and 12.
Hodge’s skills lend himself to the position, with a combination of his experience as a playmaker, his crash ball ability and excellent defence.
Playing alongside To’omua for the Rebels would further aid his development in the inside centre channel, with the added benefit of To’omua remaining as the Rebels flyhalf providing the promising Carter Gordon an incredible mentor to learn his craft over the next few years.
Hodge should also be the primary goal kicker for the Rebels as, with his age, he is the most likely player out of To’omua and O’Connor to be in the Wallabies XV at the 2023 World Cup.
Three seasons of regular Super Rugby kicking duties would allow him to further develop this crucial area of the game.
Even at his age, Liam Wright has one of the smartest rugby minds in Australia and has the potential to be excellent in either the 6 or 7 jersey.
However we are now at a point where he needs to specialise in one of these positions, as both have differing areas of expertise.
Currently with his frame and breakdown abilities, Wright looks to be best suited to the openside flanker position. His pilfering, excellent work at attacking and defending breakdowns and also being a line out option make him a stand out in the 7 jersey.
However this move would obviously hinder the impressive Fraser McReight who many tip to be a future Wallaby star, and such a decision would likely require one of the two to depart Ballymore which the Reds will obviously want to avoid.
If however it is decided to turn Wright into a blindside flanker then he needs to adapt his frame and abilities to better suit this position with some of the best players in the world currently in this position being hard ball running options.
The Bledisloe Cup matches demonstrated the strengths of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the second row and there should be no further experiments with him at blindside flanker.
In Swinton, Valetini and Hanigan Australia have better options in the 6 jersey and Salakaia-Loto has shown his class as an international second row enforcer.
Lachlan Swinton has bags of potential and all the right attributes to be a very effective blindside flanker and should not be considered for the second row to cover the recent departures at the Waratahs.
His aggression in matches is something that he needs to keep however it does need to be controlled in order to end any repeats of his red card in Brisbane.
Perhaps a slightly bold suggestion but with Rob Simmons heading off to the UK and Michael Hooper to Japan next season there is a vacancy for the Waratahs captaincy and you could do worse than to look at Swinton.
In 2008, the Reds appointed a 22-year-old James Horwill to the captaincy, who like Swinton has an abrasive style.
The captaincy required Horwill to mature and control his aggression which famously led to the Reds’ 2011 Super Rugby crown and him leading the Wallabies at the World Cup in New Zealand the same year.
The Wallabies need more leaders around the match day squad, with none of the current Super Rugby captains being regular starters during the 2020 Wallabies campaign.
By this token we should also see other players such as Wilson, Salakaia-Loto, Hodge and Gordon given leadership positions at their Super Rugby teams to develop the future Wallaby leadership group.
Whilst the final result for the Wallabies in 2020 was a bit of a damp squib, there is no doubting the potential of this team.
This is where Scott Johnson as Director of Rugby will earn his wage by identifying growth areas that are in the national interest but that in no way devalue the Super Rugby competition by ensuring long term benefits to the Super Rugby teams.