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Wallabies Power Rankings: Bolters, battlers and Joe Schmidt's biggest calls ahead of Wales series

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23rd May, 2024
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The time is fast approaching when we can all stop wondering how Joe Schmidt will approach the first Wallabies selection of his tenure and grasp the reality.

With two games to go in the regular Super Rugby season and six weeks until the Wallabies face Wales in the first Test, it’s reaching make or break time for the players.

The previous edition of The Roar’s Wallabies Power Rankings was written two months ago, and since then the landscape has shifted with form lapses and surges, new faces rising – step forward Tim Ryan and Charlie Cale – and significant injuries to form players.

Looseheads

Last time: Angus Bell, James Slipper, Blake Schoupp, Alex Hodgman, Matt Gibbon

This time: James Slipper, Matt Gibbon, Blake Schoupp, Alex Hodgman, Harry Hoopert, Isaac Kailea

Angus Bell’s foot injury in round seven forced him into surgery and while he’s targeting a potential Bledisloe Cup return, he won’t be on deck for the Wales series.

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James Slipper played his 134th Test against Portugal at the World Cup – and is only five short of equalling George Gregan’s Wallabies record – an astonishing feat for a prop. He might well have wanted to ease out of the limelight by now, but never takes a backwards step when Australia needs him.

Gibbon has impressed this season despite the issues on going at the Rebels and makes the biggest leap on our No.1 rankings.

Alex Hodgman, the former All Black now with the Reds, is eligible for the Wallabies straight away this season. He worked with Schmidt at the Blues and that experience, his breakdown prowess and stability could be attractive to the new coach.

Schoupp’s season has been significantly hampered by injury – he’s managed just 166 minutes from one start and five bench appearances this season.

Hookers

Last time: Matt Faessler, Dave Porecki, Lachlan Lonergan, Jordan Uelese, Billy Pollard, Mahe Vailanu

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This time: Matt Faessler, Jordan Uelese, Billy Pollard, Josh Nasser, Tom Horton

Faessler maintains his hold on top ranking, while Porecki suffered an Achilles injury during the trials and hasn’t been sighted for one minute of the Tahs miserable campaign. With no sign of an imminent return, he slips off our list altogether.

Lachie Lonergan is also out of contention after he suffered a nasty ankle injury in a Tate McDermott tackle against the Reds, having played six times early in the season. Billy Pollard and Connal McInerney have had to fill the void at the Brumbies.

Uelese has his critics – especially of his lineout accuracy – but has worked hard and appears to be the likely Test backup.

Tightheads

Last time: Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Zane Nonggorr, Sam Talakai, Pone Fa’aumasili, Rhys Van Nek, Harry Johnson-Holmes

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This time: Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Zane Nonggorr, Sam Talakai, Rhys Van Nek, Pone Fa’aumasili

There is little change in the pecking order but what will be of concern to Schmidt is the lack of form in his No.3s this campaign.

Alaalatoa is making his way back from the injury that ruled him out of the World Cup, but has just four games behind him and the Brumbies scrum has struggled even since his return.

Tupou’s form struggles have been well noted and Rebels coach Kevin Foote has given Talakai eight starts to the Tongan Thor’s four – with seven appearances off the bench.

Nonggorr started the season strongly and has claims on being the competition’s form tighthead, but it’s hard to see him being picked ahead of the two big guns for the start of the Test campaign, if they are fit.

The big loser of the season so far is Fa’amausili, who can’t get on the park. He was loaned to the Waratahs due to their injury crisis, then forced home when Tupou suffered a concussion. It has been a horrible 2024 for the Rebel.

Taniela Tupou of the Wallabies looks on ahead of their Rugby World Cup France 2023 match against Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 16, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Taniela Tupou. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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Locks

Last time: Nick Frost, Luhkan Salakaia-Loto, Seru Uru, Jed Holloway, Cadeyrn Neville, Josh Canham, Jeremy Williams, Ryan Smith

This time: Nick Frost, Ryan Smith, Izack Rodda, Josh Canham, Luhkan Salakaia-Loto, Jeremy Williams, Darcy Swain, Cadeyrn Neville, Jed Holloway

This is where the power rankings start getting tricky, with some players possessing the ability to play several positions on a team.

That is the case for Nick Frost, who you would imagine is the first lock picked for the Wallabies despite running out at No.6 for the Brumbies this weekend, and in some recent matches.

After four games he was a clear leader in lineouts won but now ranks fifth thanks to the Brumbies sharing the load with Swain and Charlie Cale chipping in with plenty.

At No.2 a mea culpa – readers rightly decided Ryan Smith was too low on our previous rankings, and many are backing the 27-year-old to make the step up from four Australia A appearances to a Wallabies debut.

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And another mea culpa. After Izack Rodda’s multiple injuries we left him off this initial list – but he’s back and seemingly fit for the Force and has Wallabies experience.

We’ve moved Seru Uru into the backrow rankings – it seems his best chance of breaking through to the Test team is in a utility role.

Luhkan Salakaia-Loto was an important player for the Rebels through the opening eight rounds before suffering a foot injury that could well keep him out of contention for Wales.

Darcy Swain has found some form this season – his last in Brumbies colours. Discipline issues have marked his time in gold but at 26 fans will be hopeful he’s turned over a new leaf if given another shot.

No.6

Last time: Ned Hanigan, Tom Hooper, Liam Wright, Josh Kemeny

This time: Rob Leota, Tom Hooper, Liam Wright, Ned Hanigan, Josh Kemeny, Lachie Swinton

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Ned Hanigan has had a decent season in a poor team but his decision to pack up and head overseas probably ends his hopes. The same could be said for fellow departees Kemeny and Swinton.

Leota and Hooper could be locked in an arm wrestle for this spot – with Leota’s versatility also making him a good back up to Valetini at No.8. Hooper, of course, played at No.7 during the World Cup campaign – but it’s hard to see that particular Eddie Jones masterstroke being replicated by Schmidt.

Liam Wright has been impressive all season, playing every match, and will be hopeful of adding to his five caps from 2019-20.

No.7

Last time: Fraser McReight, Charlie Gamble, Luke Reimer, Carlo Tizzano

This time: Fraser McReight, Luke Reimer, Charlie Gamble, Rory Scott, Brad Wilkin, Carlo Tizzano

It’s McReight first, daylight second with the Reds player one of the leading lights of the Super Rugby competition.

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Luke Reimer has been impressive as a finisher for the Brumbies and used seven times off the bench with three starts – he’s being kept out of the run on side by Nick Frost.

Gamble started the season well but has faded along with most of his teammates. Wilkin, Scott and Tizzano have all been willing – with the Force backrower impressively leading the whole of Super Rugby for tackles made this season, with 202.

No.8

Last time: Rob Valetini, Harry Wilson, Rob Leota, Langi Gleeson

This time: Rob Valetini, Charlie Cale, Seru Uru, Langi Gleeson

Valetini is the incumbent John Eales Medallist and is likely to be one of the first picked by Schmidt. The loss of Harry Wilson – who required surgery for a broken arm – is a major blow for him after the World Cup disappointment, and the Wallabies. Wilson was hitting top form, and combining brilliantly with McReight before his misfortune.

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Gleeson hasn’t reached previous heights this season while his mantle as the most exciting young back rower in Aussie rugby has been seized by Charlie Cale. He’s fast become the steal king – nabbing a comp high 12 opposition lineouts and contributing five tries.

No.9

Last time: Tate McDermott, 2. Jake Gordon, 3. Nic White, 4. Ryan Lonergan, 5. Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 6. Teddy Wilson

This time: Jake Gordon, Tate McDermott, Nic White, Ryan Lonergan, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa

It might seem a big call but Jake Gordon’s place at No.1 also speaks to McDermott’s stuttering performances at times this season. That said, Gordon has impressed and never stopped trying behind a pack decimated by injuries all season long.

Nic White has the experience and guile to stay in the Wallabies conversation.

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No.10

Last time: Noah Lolesio, Carter Gordon, Ben Donaldson, Tane Edmed, Tom Lynagh, Jack Debreczeni, Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, Max Burey

This time: Noah Lolesio, Carter Gordon, Tom Lynagh, Ben Donaldson, Tane Edmed, Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, Jack Debreczeni


This is the position that is currently stirring up more debate than any other in the Wallabies calculations. Gordon can run a game but his less than accurate kicking sometimes leads to viral video. Lolesio is the No.10 of Australia’s best Super team, is maturing as a player and game leader, and sometimes doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

Tom Lynagh is being brough along carefully by Les Kiss, with plenty of time rotated out of the firing line, but is highly regarded. Ben Donaldson and Tane Edmed are capable of good performances at Super level, but can they command in a 10 jersey at Test level?

Noah Lolesio . (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Four of the current crop are in the top 10 goal kickers for points this season and Lolesio has lifted his percentage to 84%, Edmed is at 83.3%, Donno is at 76.9% and Gordon at a worrying 69.8%.

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Wingers

Last time: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jordan Petaia, Corey Toole, Dylan Pietsch, Suliasi Vunivalu, Harry Potter, Andy Muirhead, Filip Daugunu

This time: Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Corey Toole, Jordie Petaia, Tim Ryan, Dylan Pietsch, Darby Lancaster, Andy Muirhead, Triston Reilly, Suliasi Vunivalu

Plenty will want to see Kellaway at No.15 but Tom Wright’s impressive form makes that unlikely. Kels should be in the starting 15 and so we’ve put him in as the first choice winger.

Marky Mark’s form has fluctuated – and perhaps the player has been distracted by his imminent code hop.

Petaia is injured but expected back in July – maybe not in time for the Wales Tests. Toole is every chance of getting a debut while Junkyard Dog Tim Ryan has been one of the stories of the Super Rugby season.

The decline of Vunivalu continues after his ludicrous double yellows for tripping last week – and it would take a huge form reversal to get him back near the Test team.

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Tim Ryan of the Reds celebrates after scoring a try during the round 11 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Queensland Reds. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)


Inside centres


Last time: Hunter Paisami, Lalakai Foketi, Joey Walton, Hamish Stewart

This time: Hunter Paisami, Lalakai Foketi, David Feliuai, Hamish Stewart, Joey Walton

Paisami has been the form inside centre this season as he makes up lost time after his World Cup snubbing. He’s locked down on a new contract and after a strong start to Super rugby he’s shaping as a key weapon for Schmidt.

“He’s a much more complete footballer,” said Morgan Turui recently, comparing Paisami to a year ago. “He’s happy, he’s working hard, he’s got a mindset that no one’s going to get in his way in helping the Reds and getting his gold jersey back.

“Don’t call him a battering ram, he’s got nuance to his game and he’s got deception with his passing and kicking.”

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Foketi has recovered well after his scary training ground accident, while this season has seen the rise of Rebels centre Feliaui, who produced one brilliant highlights reel moment when he ran over the top of Josh Flook. Dubbed the Romanian Rumbler by Sean Maloney because of time spent in Romanian rugby, Feliaui was born in NZ to Samoan parents but grew up in Brisbane.

ruptured patella tendon during his side’s Round 4

Outside centres

Last time: Izzy Perese, Josh Flook, Len Ikitau

This time: Len Ikitau, Filipo Daugunu , Flook, Bayley Kuenzle

Perese is heading overseas to play straight after the Waratahs season so it’s unlikely he’ll be considered.

Ikitau is hitting strong form at the business end of the season after earlier struggles with injuries.

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Flook’s star continues to rise. The 22-year-old brings up his 50th game for the Reds this weekend.

“He personifies the quality of a player who the players love to play with and coaches love to coach,” said his coach Les Kiss.

“’Flooky’ has excellent timing in attack and defence and that helps give him the upper hand in playing outside centre.

“He’s having a season he can be very proud of. To reach 50 games for Queensland is well deserved.”

Daugunu, who last played for the Wallabies on the wing after a debut in 2020, has shown signs he might get the chance to add to his seven Test caps.

Fullback

Last time: Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Max Jorgensen, Jock Campbell

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This time: Tom Wright, Jock Campbell, Kurtley Beale

We’ve shifted Kellaway to the wing – he’s clearly in the top two No.15 choices – and Max Jorgensen is injured so he too comes out.

Tom Wright hasn’t always convinced the public but he’s in excellent form and hitting his straps right on the cusp of the finals. Wright has nine try involvements in his past nine games – seven tries and two assists.

The presence of KB back in the Wallabies conversation will surprise some and anger others but in a squad short on experience in the outside backs, and Schmidt intent on picking domestically, his return wouldn’t be the biggest shock.

Schmidt watched Beale stand out in a 48-10 win over Fijian Drua – one of three wins in five games since he joined.

And Beale certainly hasn’t given up on his Wallabies ambitions.

The 35-year-old has notched 95 caps for the Wallabies – the last in 2021.

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“Yeah absolutely. It’s definitely a desire,” Beale said of a possible return to the gold jersey.

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