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‘Talk about leadership’: Wallabies in the dark before must-win Wales clash

By AAP
Tate McDermott and Angus Bell of Australia look on during The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Despite their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, the Wallabies are in the dark about who will lead the side in one of the biggest games in Australian rugby history.

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For the second straight week there is uncertainty about the captain of the Wallabies, who face a do-or-die clash with Wales in Lyon on Sunday (Monday AEST).

A defeat would mean Australia miss the quarter-finals for the first time since the inaugural tournament 36 years ago.

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Heading into their first ever tournament loss against Fiji, Wallabies coach Eddie Jones waited until game day to confirm regular skipper Will Skelton would miss at least two matches with a calf injury and hooker Dave Porecki would become the sixth Test captain of the year.

Vice-captain Tate McDermott missed that game following a concussion in Australia’s tournament-opening win over Georgia and while he will play against Wales, he remained unsure whether he would take over the armband.

McDermott led the team in the Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Dunedin before Skelton was appointed for the World Cup.

“We’ve got a strong leadership group, so anyone in that group is capable of taking that role,” the halfback told reporters in Saint-Etienne.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
27
21
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
40%

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Scrum coach Neal Hatley confirmed the captaincy would be finalised on Thursday, saying it’s “not a massive thing for us”.

Former Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell, who lashed Jones in a podcast over his selection decisions, questioned the leadership of the sport and said it contributed to Australia’s first tournament loss to Fiji.

“You talk about leadership in an organisation, we’ve had six captains in seven games, we’ve had a multitude of changes at CEO level, president level, coaching level, this is beyond just what happened (against Fiji),” said Mitchell, who played in three World Cups.

“It’s probably been a long time coming and we got bitten in the arse. It’s time to wake up a little bit.”

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McDermott at least sounded like a captain when he spoke of how the players had responded to their 22-15 Fiji defeat.

“The honesty in the group was awesome to see because it was a tough watch,” the 25-year-old Queenslander said.

“We had to call that out, we had to put everything on the table so we don’t fall into the same trap.

“Eddie’s been really good at driving the mindset part as well, with all the coaching staff, so we’ve got a real clear plan of how we want to go into this game.

“We have to get that result so we’ve seen a big shift from the boys. The hangover from that performance against Fiji, we had to throw that in the bin as quickly as possible because of the importance of this game.”

Eschewing their traditional flamboyant style, the Fijians played conservatively, winning the physical battle at the breakdown and relying on their kicking game and penalties to apply pressure.

McDermott said those tactics provided ideal preparation for facing unbeaten Wales, who are coached by Jones’s long-time rival Warren Gatland.

“You look at the similarities between them,” he said.

“Fiji’s mentality at the start of the game to take those threes (penalties); Dan Biggar is going to do the exact same thing with Wales.

“We’ve got to win the physicality and if we don’t do that, we’re on the back foot, then we invite those opportunities for them to build that scoreboard pressure.”

In another blow, the Wallabies announced overnight that Max Jorgensen’s World Cup is over after the uncapped teenage speedster fractured his leg at training.

His medical replacement in the squad is still to be confirmed.

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mitch 1 hours ago
The Wallabies team Joe Schmidt must pick to win back Bledisloe Cup

Rodda will be a walk up starter at lock. Frost if you analyse his dominance has little impact and he’s a long way from being physical enough, especially when you compare to Rodda and the work he does. He was quite poor at the World Cup in his lack of physicality. Between Rodda and Skelton we would have locks who can dominate the breakdown and in contact. Frost is maybe next but Schmidt might go for a more physical lock who does their core work better like Ryan or LSL. Swain is no chance unless there’s a load of injuries. Pollard hasn’t got the scrum ability yet to be considered. Nasser dominated him when they went toe to toe and really showed him up. Picking Skelton effects who can play 6 and 8. Ideally Valetini would play 6 as that’s his best position and Wilson at 8 but that’s not ideal for lineout success. Cale isn’t physical enough yet in contact and defence but is the best backrow lineout jumper followed by Wright, Hanigan and Swinton so unfortunately Valetini probably will start at 8 with Wright or Hanigan at 6. Wilson on the bench, he’s got too much quality not to be in the squad. Paisami is leading the way at 12 but Hamish Stewart is playing extremely well also and his ball carrying has improved significantly. Beale is also another option based on the weekend. Beale is class but he’s also the best communicator of any Australian backline player and that can’t be underestimated, he’ll be in the mix.

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