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Wallabies player ratings: No. 8 locks down jersey as loosie combination takes shape

By Finn Morton
Rob Valetini. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The wounded Wallabies showed plenty of fight, passion and character throughout a tough international season where they failed to win as many games as they probably deserved.

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Time and time again, week after week, poor discipline and inconsistent team selections hurt the Wallabies, who lost a number of crunch clashes by agonisingly small margins.

Australia started their season with a bang, beating rivals England in Perth by two points – but wins proved hard to come by throughout the rest of 2022.

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After losing their next two Test matches against their old foes – and the series on home soil – the men in gold lost four of their next six matches before heading to Europe.

The Wallabies overcame a valiant Scotland side at Murrayfield to begin their five match spring tour, before losing their next three Test matches by three points or less – including a first ever loss to Italy.

While they were able to complete an incredible comeback against Wales to finish the year, the disastrous run of form cannot be ignored less than a year out from the World Cup.

But don’t rule them out just yet.

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This week, RugbyPass will be rating the Wallabies players’ performances from the year that was. After reviewing the outside backs, midfield and halves, today we’re going to take a look at how the loose forwards performed this year.

 

Loose Forwards

Rob Valetini – 7.5/10

Played: 12 (12 starts)

Best performance: Scotland

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Rob Valetini is a world class loose forward, it’s as simple as that – he could practically walk into a number of international sides going off his form this year. The rampaging Number Eight had probably his best season in the coveted gold jersey this year, where he started the most games of any Australian backrower.

Considering the depth the Wallabies have in the backrow, the 24-year-old had a point to prove this year as he looked to cement his spot in the starting side. Valetini clearly made the most of each opportunity to shine in the Test arena, having completed 93 per cent of his tackles ahead of the Autumn Nations Series. While his defensive dominance and attacking threat was certainly eye catching this year, what was particularly impressive was his work rate around the park.

Valetini’s best performance of the season was against Scotland at Murrayfield, where made 14 tackles and a team-high nine runs. The Brumbies backrower was in the thick of the action early on, and made a try-saving tackle before half-time. Valetini also proved himself to be a go-to option at the set-piece for the Wallabies.

While Dave Rennie certainly has multiple quality options at Number Eight, that jersey is all but Valetini’s going into a World Cup year.

 

Michael Hooper – 7

Played: 6 (6 starts)

Best performance: Ireland

Michael Hooper is the best role model in Australian rugby both on and off the field, and the Test veteran deserves plenty of praise and applause for the example that he’s setting. Hooper played a starring role in the Wallabies’ thrilling win over England to start the year, and backed that up with another two solid performances to round out the series. But fast forward to The Rugby Championship, and Hooper made the decision to leave Argentina to focus on his mental health. While the team clearly supported his decision as their captain stepped away from the sport, Hooper later made his return to the Test arena during their end-of-season tour.

Hooper didn’t skip a beat upon his return to international rugby, as he made 15 tackles against Scotland at Murrayfield – he just doesn’t stop running.

But the 31-year-old saved his best performance of the year for the crunch clash with World No. 1 Ireland in Dublin, where he won at least three turnovers – including two in five minutes. Hooper also made the most tackles of any Wallabies player with 16, and missed none.

 

Pete Samu – 6.75

Played: 12 (3 starts)

Best performance: Wales

When Eddie Jones was with England, the supercoach made it clear that the bench had a purpose; that substitutes were ‘finishers’ rather than backup options to the starting XV. Well, nobody in Australian rugby backs up that way of thinking than Pete Samu, who was one of the Wallabies’ best forwards this year.

Samu only started three of his 12 Test matches, but was regularly called upon with about 30 minutes to play in tight Test matches. While the Wallabies weren’t able to win many games this year, you can’t fault the work rate and effort of the players – including Samu.

The Super Rugby champion was dynamic in his attack, and regularly caused headaches for the opposition as he showcased his skillset and flare. But his ability to dominate a tackle is an asset to the Wallabies, and Samu is also an option at the lineout.

The exciting backrower saved probably his best performance of the year for last, as he played a starring role in Australia’s stunning comeback win over Wales. Samu played a crucial role in the seemingly impossible resurgence, which included a key intercept which led to a Welsh yellow card.

 

Jed Holloway – 6.5

Played: 8 (8 starts)

Best performance: Argentina I

After making his Test debut against Argentina in Mendoza, which was potentially his best performance of the year as well, Holloway made the No. 6 jersey his own. Holloway is another player who just doesn’t quit, and is willing to do whatever is needed to get the job done for his team.

Looking at his international debut versus Los Pumas, Holloway was a reliable option at the set-piece and was generally solid around the park as well. The blindside flanker came close to scoring a try on debut too. But overall, Holloway appears to have found himself a home in the Wallabies starting side – and I’d expect him to continue to make his presence felt both ahead of and during next year’s World Cup.

 

Fraser McReight – 6.5

Played: 8 (6 starts)

Best performance: South Africa I

When Michael Hooper made the decision to step away from the Wallabies, the vacant spot at openside flanker saw understudy Fraser McReight step up to the starting side – and he didn’t disappoint. The former Junior Wallabies captain played a starring role in Australia’s dominant win over Argentina in Mendoza, where he dominated the breakdown and scored a try.

But McReight saved his best performance of the year for a Test on Australian soil, when the Wallabies hosted the reigning world champions Springboks at Adelaide Oval. McReight scored the opening try of the afternoon in just the first minute, and doubled his tally with another score midway through the second half. The rising star also finished the Test with 100 per cent tackle completion, and was a menace at the breakdown.

 

Rob Leota – 6

Played: 6 (3 starts)

Best performance: England I

Leota is one of the most exciting loose forwards in Australian rugby, and he was given the chance to stake his claim for the No. 6 jersey during the opening two Tests against England. Named to start both of those matches against the old foe, the 25-year-old did what he had to do without really standing out.

After being left out of the matchday squad for the third and deciding Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Leota had to wait until the first Bledisloe Cup Test to start another match. But unfortunately for the Wallabies and the blindside flanker, he ruptured his Achilles during that Thursday night clash.

 

Langi Gleeson – 6

Played: 3 (1 start)

Best performance: Wales

Gleeson was called up to the Wallabies’ matchday squad to face Scotland at the 11th hour after Pete Samu was ruled out. But the backrower didn’t really get the chance to showcase the best of his ability, as he was subbed on for a short cameo with five minutes to play – an eventful five minutes I might add.

After coming off the bench a couple of weeks later against Italy in Florence, Gleeson was eventually given the chance to play big minutes as he was named to start against Wales. And he certainly made his presence known early on. Gleeson made one of the tackles of the Test on Welsh fullback Josh Adams, who as hit just as he caught a Jake Gordon clearance kick. The No. 8 finished the night with an impressive 11 tackles, and also the ran the ball with purpose and intent.

 

Harry Wilson – 5

Played: 2 (2 starts)

Best performance: England III

It wasn’t that long ago that Harry Wilson was the next big thing in Australian rugby. After bursting onto the international scene in 2020 after an impressive Super Rugby campaign with the Queensland Reds, Wilson famously earnt praise from Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.

But fast forward a couple of years, and Wilson was left out of the Australian squad for their five match spring tour. While he’s not certainly not out of the frame for national selection nine months out from the World Cup, it’s clear that Wilson has a point to prove during next year’s Super campaign.

 

Ned Hanigan – 5

Played: 2 (1 start)

Best performance: Italy

Hanigan played two Test matches for the Wallabies in the backrow this year, and started one Test against Italy in Florence. While the veteran forward adds an option at the lineout, and on his day can be lethal in attack and defence, Hanigan failed to fire in the gold jersey this year.

 

Full Ratings (to date)

Outside Backs

Tom Wright – 7.5

Marika Koroibete – 7.5

Mark Nawaqanitawase – 7

Andrew Kellaway – 6.5

Jordan Petaia – 6

Jock Campbell – 6

Reece Hodge – 5

Suliasi Vunivalu – N/A

Tom Banks – N/A

 

Midfield

Len Ikitau – 7

Samu Kerevi – 7

Hunter Paisami – 6.5

Lalakai Foketi – 6

Reece Hodge – 6

Irae Simone – N/A

 

Fly-halves

Noah Lolesio – 6.5

Bernard Foley – 6

James O’Connor – 5

Ben Donaldson – 5

Quade Cooper – N/A

 

Halfbacks

Nic White – 7.5

Tate McDermott – 6.75

Jake Gordon – 5.5

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