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'How much will Valetini be the focus?': The Roar experts' predicted Wallabies 23 for the first Test against England

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29th June, 2022
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Dave Rennie will name his first Test team to play England on Thursday at 1.30pm AEST with injury certain to shape the final mix and the odd surprising call – to some readers at least – inevitable.

The Roar rugby experts Harry Jones, Brett McKay, Geoff Parkes and Jim Tucker have named the 23 players they believe will be on the Wallabies team sheet for the first of three Tests.

The four 23s mirror the biggest public talking points – around the backrow make up with the panel split over how to fit Rob Leota, Harry Wilson and Rob Valetini into jerseys No. 6 and 8. And there is no mention of Izaia Perese, or Suliasi Vunivalu, in any of the predicted squads with Jordan Petaia on three benches.

The players will already know the plan by now, barring late injury concerns, so leaks are possible, as ever.

Taniela Tupou is unlikely to be named (with fellow prop Pone Fa’amausili also a major doubt) but James Slipper, who is destined for some time at tighthead to cover, says the Queensland star will “definitely” play at some stage in the series.

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Stan Sport pundit Morgan Turinui said Tupou was a key factor for Dave Rennie’s Wallabies style and his presence would be missed.

“He’s a huge one. A wheel falls off the big red vehicle when he’s not there,” Turinui told The Roar. “He’s influential, getting better and better.

“Whether he was going to start or come off the bench, the two different roles he plays are hugely influential. You know that the scrum and set piece are going to be huge.

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“He’s been winning some of the perception battles with referees and being really effective for the Reds, I’m sure Dan McKellar’s more looking forward to coaching him than against him.

“You talk about winning the battle in the middle of the park – well he lives in there and he’s an extra carrier that takes the load off some of the big ball carrying back rowers.”

Turunui didn’t want to be drawn on a 23 but an intriguing area for him is the backrow, where the role Rennie wants Valetini to play is critical to who is selected.

Rob Valetini of the Wallabies looks on during The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the South Africa Springboks at Suncorp Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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“How much is Valetini going to be the focus point of it?” Turinui wondered. “Michael Hooper is going to pick himself. Who is going to help the ball winning that will allow Valetini to do what he does, and who’s going to also make sure there’s more than one guy for them to worry about?

“Harry Wilson actually starts to look quite attractive in that. A lot will be made of his numbers from Super Rugby, that’s from playing big minutes and a high work rate which probably talks to that preseason he had.

“But the quality was there too. I thought some of his breakdown work the year before wasn’t crash hot and I’ve seen a marked improvement in that. He’s a much better player again this year after being a very good player last year.

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“I know they like Rob Leota as well. If they’re picking a Wilson or a Leota I think that speaks to trying to go straight through England or that they know they’ve got to meet the physical challenge.”

Turinui also tipped Perese as someone who could be a breakout star across the series, and a player he would have on his bench.

“I think Perese, depending on what time he gets, he’s set up to succeed in the modern Test match arena – physical, great feet, great evasion skills, wonderful ability to continue to gain metres post contact,” said Turinui.

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“A lot of focus is shifted to that 13 channel now and to get a guy to beat someone, which is getting harder and harder.

“I’m a Len Ikitau fan but but I just think Perese whether it’s as an impact player, or he gets a bit more of a chance, he’s made for it.

“I think he can show that he’s going to be a pretty special sort of weapon for for Australia going into next year, that’s for sure.”

The Roar Experts’ 23s

First off the rank are our podcast hosts Harry Jones are Brett McKay. They aren’t always on the same page when podding but the hours together is having some effect – they’ve picked very similar 23s.

Harry’s 23: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Dave Porecki, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Darcy Swain, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Tom Banks, 16. Folau Fainga’a, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Taniela Tupou/James Slipper, 19. Jed Holloway/Nick Frost, 20. Harry Wilson, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. James O’Connor, 23 Jordan Petaia. (Slipper and Frost to come in if Tupou and Holloway ruled out).

Harry says: “I reckon all the coaches in world rugby watched the unbeaten unbeatable Blues lose ten lineouts and win five dirty and write down: my hooker has to throw darts.

“England want lineouts. They don’t care who throws in: they go for all of them. Maro Itoje might be shorter than Darcy Swain but he has longer wingspan and more malicious intent. So the Wallaby thrower has to hit the apex. 

“I don’t think Tom Banks should be the starting fullback (I’d use the kind of players England don’t have) but I reckon he’ll be picked because he’s seen more high balls than a sailor on shore leave. 

“Jed Holloway, if fit, and Harry Wilson on the bench for maximum carrying and cleaning down the stretch. Outside centre is up for grabs but I think Len has the faith of the coaches.”

Brett’s 23: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Dave Porecki, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Darcy Swain, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Tom Banks, 16. Folau Fainga’a, 17. Scott Sio, 18. James Slipper, 19. Nick Frost, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. James O’Connor, 23 Jordan Petaia.

Brett says: “I can’t really argue with Harry’s team at all, though I think we know Taniela Tupou won’t be named, and it sadly looks as though Jed Holloway’s Test debut will remain elusive for at least another week, too.

“I would have Pete Samu ahead of Harry Wilson on the bench too. I think Samu’s coverage is massively underrated, though Wilson would relish the chance for what would be a well-earned recall.

“James Slipper covering tighthead from the bench is a logical solution driven by both the impressive late season form of Scotty Sio, and the sheer lack of fit alternatives among the big bopper ranks. And while the lock and backrow stocks are significantly stronger – and healthier, happily – Nick Frost looks the right guy to drop into that same hard-carrying, lineout-dominating, mobile unit on the bench that Holloway seemed destined for.

“My only other quibble on Harry’s side as named is around Darcy Swain starting and Folau Fainga’a on the bench, and in fact it’s not even a quibble really. Both have finished the Super Rugby season for the Brumbies very well, and both have earned their stripes at Test level before. Neither would be undeserving if named.

Darcy Swain

(Photo by Getty Images)

“I only mention them because you could just as easily drop Cadeyrn Neville and Lachie Lonergan into their spots and most of the same reasons would apply. Neville would be on debut, obviously, but it’s more than a bit overdue after injury deprived him last season and would be equally deserving. Lonergan is probably the leading young Australian hooker of the non-traditional Dane Coles-style, and the coach remains a big fan.

“And maybe only because it’s the first Test of a big series that you might go with what you know in Swain and Fainga’a. Set piece and maul attack and defence is going to be huge this series, and Swain and Fainga’a won’t let the Wallabies down in either.

“Lonergan will certainly play a part in the series, but maybe the first Test of the year against the Old Enemy isn’t the best time to throw a debutant into a key position.”

Next up is Geoff Parkes who had a couple of goes at his squad. I’m fairly certain Geoff would be the type of selector to keep finessing his 23 right up until the others in the selection room have had enough and are desperate to destroy the lunch buffet.

Geoff’s 23: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Matt Philip, 5. Darcy Swain, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Jordan Petaia, 15. Tom Banks, 16. Dave Porecki, 17. Scott Sio, 18. James Slipper, 19. Cadeyrn Neville, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. James O’Connor, 23. Tom Wright.

Geoff says: “Some of the biggest selection calls have already been decided because of injuries to Taniela Tupou and Jed Holloway. Uncertainty over the fitness of Pone Fa’amuasili means that James Slipper will probably switch sides, opening up a bench spot for Scott Sio.

“Test match debuts look likely for Dave Porecki and Cadeyrn Neville, while Harry Wilson is set to lose out to Pete Samu’s versatility.

“In the backline, Jake Gordon and Andrew Kellaway might be unlucky to miss out, but the tightest call of all looks to be at centre, where Hunter Paisami, Len Ikitau and Izaia Perese all have solid claims.

“Contrary to the views and wishes of some Roarers, the selection of Michael Hooper at 7 and captain is non-controversial and automatic.”

The legend of the north, Jim Tucker, has seen plenty of teams named and he has been spending some time around Rennie’s camp in the past couple of weeks.

Jim’s 23: 1. Angus Bell, 2. Dave Porecki, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 5. Matt Philip, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Rob Valetini, 9. Nic White, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Marika Koroibete, 12. Samu Kerevi, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Andrew Kellaway, 15. Tom Banks, 16. Folau Fainga’a, 17. James Slipper, 18. Scott Sio, 19. Nick Frost, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Jordan Petaia, 23. James O’Connor.

Jim says:  “Lock and fullback will have been two big, head-scratching selection calls for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie. You have to take on the English up front and be strong in the air, defusing kicks to have any formula to beat Eddie Jones’ team. With Izack Rodda injured and Rory Arnold and Will Skelton abroad, it is much thinner for experience at lock than the Wallabies would like. 

“Cadeyrn Neville is a journeyman at 33 but he is 120kg-plus, 2.02m and well drilled as a tight forward by forwards coach Dan McKellar. Perhaps there is a Test debut in the stars for him.

“I’d be just as happy with the even taller leaper Nick Frost as a starter. That’s a major gamble but he’s the superior lineout winner. Frost or Darcy Swain? Tough decision. Jordan Petaia is too risky as a fullback punt so he will be big X-factor from the bench.”

Watch every match of the July Test Series on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Kicks off this weekend with Wallabies v England (Saturday 7:15pm AEST), All Blacks v Ireland (Saturday 4:30pm AEST), South Africa v Wales (Sunday 12:55am AEST) and Argentina v Scotland (Sunday 5:05am AEST). All streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport.

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