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Five things we learned: Schmidt's selection headache, Carter's a No.12 wildcard, and $1m Thor must step up

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25th March, 2024
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Small wonder that Joe Schmidt hasn’t wanted to offer up any clues into his selection thinking this year – because everywhere he looks, there are vacancies.

Of course, new coaches bring fresh ideas, but rarely has one arrived at an international post with the selection battle so open.

The list of likely starters can be counted on one hand: Angus Bell, Nick Frost, Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight and perhaps Andrew Kellaway.

There’s an argument that James Slipper could sneak a start over Angus Bell, who still has some work to do with his scrummaging.

Whether Valetini starts at blindside flanker or No.8 is worth considering, too.

But elsewhere, it’s wide open.

Joe Schmidt

Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt has some big decisions to make. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The most intriguing selections are in the halves, inside centre and the wings.

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Tate McDermott is the front-runner at halfback, but his pass won’t ever hit great heights.

Fly-half remains anyone’s guess, with Carter Gordon showing glimpses of what he’s capable of. But behind a beaten side, others are catching up.

Carter Gordon is facing some pressure to keep hold of his Wallabies spot. Could he be considered as an inside centre? (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Ben Donaldson’s running game is coming along nicely, while his big boot was on display during the Force’s fine win over the Reds.

Noah Lolesio had his best game in more than a season, as he continually looked to take the ball to the line. His fine effort did however come against a poor Moana Pasifika side.

The inside centre position is similarly open, with Hunter Paisami having the tools to succeed. But managing the tempo of matches hasn’t always been Paisami’s strength.

Could Gordon be a long-term option at inside centre?

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REDS GIVEN IMPORTANT REMINDER

Les Kiss summed up the Reds’ performance in Perth nicely on Saturday night, as he described his side’s efforts as “sloppy”.

Indeed, they were – and it was a throwback to life under Brad Thorn where the Reds regularly underperformed.

The lineout didn’t function well, the ball they received was often static and therefore their breakdown was a mess.

Even Harry Wilson, who had been excellent throughout the opening month, looked out of sorts with his hands as he dropped three balls, including two off the kick-off. He did however break the line on a couple of occasions.

Harry Wilson had a forgettable afternoon in Perth, as he dropped a couple of kick restarts. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The defeat was a timely reminder that nothing is given in rugby. It’s down to hard work and discipline and doing the basics well.

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Morgan Tuirnui said the Force “out-enthused” the Reds, and they did. They counter-rucked the Reds on several occasions and that came down to not working hard enough to secure their ball.

While it’s not all doom and gloom at Ballymore, the defeat is a blow to the Reds’ hopes of making the top four.

IT’S TIME FOR THE REBELS’ MILLION-DOLLAR MAN TO STEP UP

It says something about Taniela Tupou’s potential that he is being pursued by Leinster.

It also says something about his value that the deal being offered is worth more than $1 million.

Leinster sees his potential, but Tupou has not yet delivered on it in Australian rugby.

Taniela Tupou is Australia’s most expensive player, but he’s not yet delivering on his potential. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

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Tupou could be the game’s best tight-head prop. But that’s been said for three years.

The 27-year-old has been plagued by injuries, but is he doing everything he can – and should – to ensure he’s in the best possible shape?

Tupou has shown glimpses of what he can do for the Rebels since heading south to Melbourne, but he needs to do more.

If he had Sam Talakai’s work ethic, he would have been the Wallabies’ first-choice tight-head prop for years.

But it says something about Tupou that Talakai has started ahead of Tupou in two of the past three matches. It’s time to step up.

SWINTON SHOWS HIS VALUE – BUT IT’S TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Lachie Swinton’s 30-minute cameo was not just one of his best performances in a sky blue shirt, it was one of the best from an Australian back-rower this year in Super Rugby.

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It’s saying something that no Waratahs forward carried the ball more times than Swinton (10), who arrived off the bench early in the second half.

Two things stood out about Swinton’s game.

His ability to dent the line and his quality around the breakdown.

The latter is something that has plagued Australian rugby for years, with the attacking breakdown one of the biggest issues facing the Wallabies.

Just ask the Reds, who suffered from their inaccuracies in the area against the Force and paid the price.

The unfortunate reality is Swinton is heading overseas at season’s end.

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Should Schmidt still consider him? Absolutely, because the Wallabies need to win and generating quick, accurate ball is the first principle that Schmidt-coached sides require.

A FIGHT FOR TWO WINGERS

John Manenti will be stewing inside because two of the players he would love to get his hands on are surely capturing the attention of Schmidt.

While Jordan Petaia could yet be a contender for the left-wing, the Brumbies’ Corey Toole and Waratahs’ Dylan Pietsch, who have both featured for Australia’s sevens team, are delivering statements of their own.

Toole has caught everyone’s eye with his ability to finish.

It’s early in his career, but Toole has got to be the best finisher since Drew Mitchell was running around.

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Toole increased his season tally to six tries on the weekend, but the Brumbies’ desire to give him the ball, including from the boot, is proving a massive weapon.

Pietsch hasn’t quite found the same space as Toole, but his bigger body and strength over the ball won’t have gone unnoticed.

With Marika Koroibete plying his trade overseas, Schmidt should turn to a local-based player to wear the No.11 jersey. The New Zealand coach has some healthy options.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week

Angus Bell, Billy Pollard, Santiago Medrano, Tom Franklin, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Carlo Tizzano, Charlie Cale, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Hamish Stewart, Sam Spink, Bayley Kuenzle, Tom Wright.

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