The Roar
The Roar


WALLABIES REPORT CARD: 'F--k mate, what didn't go wrong?'- Few pass marks and an F for Eddie in Pool C disaster

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2nd October, 2023
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SAINT ETIENNE – The Wallabies have headed off on a mini-break before reconvening at their Saint Etienne base to prepare for a game they’ll likely never play.

While they have a few beers and reconnect with their families they’ll no doubt be thinking of next weekend and the miracle result they’ll need – Portugal to beat Fiji by eight points or more while holding the Pacific Islanders under four tries.

At the end of the first – and likely only – stage of the campaign The Roar has compiled a report card on how each group within the squad performed.

If this was school, and they were your kid, you’d be contemplating making them repeat a year – or at least asking serious questions about the effectiveness of their head teacher and other members of staff.

”Headmaster” Phil Waugh, the RA CEO Phil Waugh, was clear.

“I think it’s been bitterly disappointing,” Waugh said. “We came here with a lot of hope and optimism and we sit here now, everything is out of our hands and we’ve got to pray that Portugal get up against Fiji next week. But I think very disappointed with the journey to where we are today and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”


Let’s break it down.

Front row

Props: Angus Bell, James Slipper, Pone Fa’amausili, Zane Nonggorr, Blake Schoupp, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou. Hookers: Matt Faessler, David Porecki, Jordan Uelese.

Grade: C

The loss of Taniela Tupou to a hamstring injury had a significant impact on the whole campaign as well as the effectiveness of the front row. The Tongan Thor battled back from an Achilles injury suffered 11 months ago to take the field for the first game against Georgia – and produced a moment to cherish with his try assist for Ben Donaldson – but was ruled out of the next three games. Eddie Jones says he will return if the miracle happens next weekend in Toulouse.

Taniela Tupou rumbles downfield against Georgia. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Tupou’s absence and the rawness of Zane Nonggorr – who was trusted with just 36 minutes – meant a shift for James Slipper to his weaker position. ‘Slips’ broke George Gregan’s record of World Cup games with 21 and his desire and competitiveness can’t be faulted, but it was far from ideal.


Blake Schoupp got 49 minutes and Pone Fa’amausili had 70 after recovering from a calf injury in time to take on Wales. Neither stood up well at the scrum or at the maul, while Fa’amausili at least brought some needed physicality against Portugal.

Best in class was Angus Bell, 22, who led the props with 272 minutes and scored his first Wallabies try against Portugal.

Bell, who carries like a tank, will be one of the shining lights as fans look forward over the next four-year cycle.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” he said. “We lost Allan Alaalatoa who was one of our leaders and our captain at the time. Losing Allan was hard, we lost big ‘Willie’ and ‘Nela’ as well. Injuries played a massive part.”


The lack of world class depth in the No.2 jersey shone through. It was a problem position during Dave Rennie’s tenure, and still is with Dave Porecki having to get through 258 minutes and captain the side in three matches (he became the most-used captain for the Wallabies this year in their nine Tests.)

Porecki took over the captaincy in bizarre circumstances – with Jones playing silly buggers over the fitness of Will Skelton ahead of the Fiji game despite The Roar revealing he would miss the pool stage with a calf injury. Two big losses dampened his mood and he was questioned for a couple of big calls under pressure, particularly his decision to point for the corner rather than the posts against Wales with the score 10-6.

Matt Faessler played 56 minutes and had a yellow card against Portugal while Jordan Uelese got concussed against Fiji, restricting him to six minutes.

Second row: Richie Arnold, Nick Frost, Matt Philip, Will Skelton.

Grade: D

It’s impossible to overstate the impact the loss of Skelton had on the team. He began the tournament strongly against Georgia and his rousing on-field call to arms stamped him as the natural leader Jones was banking on.

But a calf injury in the days before the Fiji showdown cost him the rest of the pool stages. Who knows if a fully fit Skelton and Tupou would have turned the tables against Fiji, but the physicality of both men, in the face of a Fijian firestorm, was badly missed.

Will Skelton of Australia takes part in reciting the Australian national anthem prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Will Skelton only lined up against Georgia during the 2023 World Cup. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

With Skelton out, the Wallabies needed more than they got from France-based Richie Arnold, whose four penalty concessions against Fiji were decisive. He scored a try against Portugal but his best moment came not on the field but in the interview zone after the Wales loss, with the quote that deserves to linger as the epitaph for Australia’s World Cup campaign – “F–k mate, what didn’t go wrong?”

Nick Frost missed the opening match with his split ear but when he returned he showed the promise that suggests he will be one of the key forwards, along with Bell, that the Wallabies use for foundations over the next four years.

Matt Philip played just 30 minutes, while Rob Leota was used as cover twice in the pool stages – as was Tom Hooper against Georgia.

Assistant coach Dan Palmer believes the pains of 2023 can become future gains.

“They’ll get a lot out of it,” Palmer said of the tight five.

“A lot of what you learn in set piece comes from experience and they’ve had some pretty good experiences here in terms of playing against some tough packs. Combination is also a big thing, so we’ve brought some of the younger guys together who haven’t necessarily played much together before. That will be important for them.


“Time in the seat, experience against tough opposition is always going to be beneficial, especially for tight forwards.”

Back row

Langi Gleeson, Tom Hooper, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Josh Kemeny

Grade: C

Jones opted against taking a half-fit Michael Hooper to the tournament and the jury is out on whether the veteran would have made a significant contribution after returning from a calf strain. But aside from the excellent Rob Valetini at No.8 (whose nine minutes off for a HIA against Portugal was the only time he wasn’t on the field) the rest of the back row was a microcosm of the whole campaign – a mess.

“He’s been great a talismanic figure,” said former Wallabies skipper James Horwill about Valetini on Stan Sport.


“When there’s a lot of moving parts around him, he’s the one guy who’s stood strong.”

Tom Hooper entertained off the field and can play a significant promotional role for RA over the next few years but he wasn’t helped by being thrust into high-pressure situations before he was ready, notably at No.7 against Wales.

The 22-year-old country kid deserves to chill with a visit to his local Oberon bottlo after playing all 320 minutes available.

Fraser McReight, who plays his club football at No.7 and looked the obvious candidate with Michael Hooper out, returned to the role against Portugal.

“A player who has caught my eye is Fraser McReight,” said former Wallaby Morgan Turinui on Stan Sport. “He’s played a lot tighter in a Wallaby jersey this year than we’ve seen at the Queensland Reds. I’ve been impressed with his proactive work at the breakdown. Yes, that’s what we expect from a No.7 but Fraser McReight is important for the Wallabies if they want to get that flow back in attack.”

Jones opted to take Langi Gleeson and Josh Kemeny to the World Cup but they barely got a sniff. Gleeson had 12 minutes in the opener against Georgia and wasn’t sighted again. Kemeny was handed a token three at the end of the Portugal game.



Scrumhalves: Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Tate McDermott, Nic White. Flyhalves: Carter Gordon, Ben Donaldson.

Grade: F

Every contender at this World Cup has prioritised their No.9 and No.10 positions and the depth in those roles. Eddie Jones says he takes full responsibility for what’s unfolded in France and when people look back at this wobbly old campaign, Jones’ failure to bring an experienced playmaker will surely be the major focus.

Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley may not have totally convinced over the past 12 months but going into the tournament with Carter Gordon and Ben Donaldson seemed risky at the time, and now just looks negligent.

Hooking Gordon 50 minutes into the Fiji fiasco was as public an admission of error as you’ll ever see from Jones.

Donaldson took over for the Wales match and, after winning the man of the match in game one from No.15, was a rabbit in the headlights with three big errors in the first half.


Wales are the perfect example of the importance of getting these roles right. Star No.10 Dan Biggar went off injured just 11 minutes in against the Wallabies but Gareth Anscombe stepped up brilliantly.

The coach might have expected more from his No.9s as well – particularly Nic White, who may have booted his final box kick at Test level.

Carter Gordon with Ben Donaldson. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Tate McDermott continues to impress as a leader and with his energy, but the experts still see issues with some of his core skills. He missed out on the Fiji game having been concussed against Georgia, which may have played a role in the defeat. Jones also opted against bringing him in as captain when he returned against Wales, sticking with Dave Porecki – just one of many baffling calls.


Lalakai Foketi, Samu Kerevi, Izaia Perese, Jordan Petaia

Grade: D


Without an experienced No.10, the Wallabies really needed a huge performance from Samu Kerevi – but he was below his powerful best and left Australia on the rack and down to 13 with a careless yellow card in the final match.

Jordan Petaia is a languid footballer and seemed off the pace in the defeats, while even the coach played down the eye-catching double punch of Izzy Perese and Lalakai Foketi against the Portuguese – the best bits of which happened with Portugal down to 14 men.

The handling of Foketi encapsulates the lack of consistency in selection for the Wallabies over the past two years.

“I’ve obviously been in and out of the starting side, I’ve had injuries and then I’ve had to make my way back and prove to my self that I belong here,” he said post-match.

“I’ve been here for a few years now and I’ve been in and out, starting and not playing, on the bench, it’s been sometimes difficult, but it’s nights like tonight, it just makes everything worth it.”

Izaia Perese of Australia breaks with the ball whilst under pressure from Samuel Marques of Portugal during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Portugal at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on October 01, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

I(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Outside backs


Max Jorgensen, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Suliasi Vunivalu

Grade: B

An area of more selection intrigue before and during the World Cup. Max Jorgensen’s selection was one for the future but he didn’t see out the campaign due to a training injury and as of writing the Wallabies haven’t bothered to replace him in the squad. His absence gave Jones every right to parachute in an experienced playmaker for Wales after Gordon’s Fiji foray went wrong, but the coach resisted.

Suli Vunivalu was brought along to the dismay of many and featured for 84 minutes while Marika Koroibete and Mark Nawaqanitawase played the full complement of 320 minutes each.

Koroibete has likely played his last game for the Wallabies but Nawaqanitawase unsurprisingly only enhanced his reputation.

“Mark’s had an exceptional time in the Wallabies jersey,” said former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles on Stan Sport.

“He came onto the scene with this ooze of confidence and he’s taken it into this Test campaign. He looks like he’s got a point to prove more in the gold jersey than he did with the Waratahs this year. I always admire it when you see a player who plays with such confidence at a higher level.”


Perhaps the oddest selection of all was leaving Andrew Kellaway out of the starting team for Georgia and Fiji. The explanation was that Gordon missed too many kicks in the warm-up game against France to be trusted as kicker and Donaldson had to be shoehorned into the XV. At least Donaldson’s best moments came at fullback.

Kellaway ended up with 131 minutes – the Wallabies might have been better served if he had played more. His brilliant try-saving tackle on Portugal’s Nicolas Martins was a perfect example of his worth.


Eddie Jones, Neal Hatley, Dan Palmer, Pierre-Henry Broncan, Jason Ryles, Brett Hodgson

Grade: F

Jones says this one is on him, and fair enough – although there have been failures in multiple areas. He’s had full backing from players and his assistants, although the public has yet to hear from defence coach Brett Hodgson, the only assistant yet to do a Wallabies media appearance during the World Cup.

“I heard what he said but everyone’s responsible,” said Neal Hatley, the scrum coach. “There’s leaders within the team, the rest of the coaching staff are responsible alongside Eddie, never just one man.”


Hatley said he would be keen to continue as an assistant – and surely that will depend on Jones’ uncertain future after the World Cup.

Dan Palmer is due to join Dan McKellar at Leicester on a three-year deal. Perhaps year four will be alongside McKellar for the next World Cup campaign – if it even takes that long.

‘I’d do it again, definitely. I’ve learned a lot over this period,” said Palmer.

“I’ve been surrounded by some experienced coaches in Eddie and Hats particularly. I’ve learned from them every day. In terms of the development experience for me, it’s been outstanding. It’s an awesome group of players to work with.

“The results haven’t gone our way at times. We haven’t performed the way we’ve wanted to. All of that can be disappointing – but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

“This is a young group and they’ll be better for this experience but we’ve changed a lot about the environment, how we prepare, how we’re trying to play the game so the whole group will be better for that.”