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Raising the bar: The Australian halfbacks inspiring Junior Wallabies skipper

By Finn Morton
Australia's Tate McDermott (L) and Jake Gordon attend a captain's run at the Sanctuary Cove Golf and Country Club Rugby Field in Gold Coast on July 16, 2021, ahead of the third and decisive rugby union Test against France. - -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by Patrick HAMILTON / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

There have been a lot of great halfbacks in the history of Australian rugby. World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones, George Gregan and Will Genia all stand out as genuine icons of the Wallabies’ No. 9 jersey.

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During their illustrious Test careers, all three men helped inspire younger players to be greater. That’s how professional sport and international rugby work – there will always be heroes to look up to, even if they’re sometimes your rivals.

Queenslander Tate McDermott seems to be at the top of the Wallabies’ depth chart for scrum-halves. Under former coach Eddie Jones, the Queenslander ended up becoming Australia’s 86th Wallabies captain.

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So, rivalries aside, there’s a reason that New South Welshman Teddy Wilson looks up to the Reds’ halfback. There doesn’t seem to be a better scrum-half in Australian rugby at the moment.

Nic White, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Ryan Louwrens and Ryan Lonergan would all be in the mix for national selection, as would NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon.

Gordon is more than just a captain and teammate for Wilson, but a mentor as well. With a lethal running game, a return to the Wallabies could be on the cards for the Tahs skipper under new coach Joe Schmidt.

“I definitely respect Jake highly as a player, he’s a great player, I learn a lot off him here,” 2023 Junior Wallabies captain & halfback Teddy Wilson told RugbyPass.

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“Outside from Jack, I’d probably say in Australia, you can’t look past Tate McDermott. He’s been good the last couple of years. I like his style of play as well, he’s a running nine, he’s a threat from the back of the ruck which I like to base my game off is my running ability.

“(McDermott) takes the line on, he’s elusive, he’s quick. I’d definitely say probably Tate is the next one I’d like to look up to. He’s doing great things the last couple of years.”

After graduating from the Junior Wallabies program with flying colours, there’s every chance that Wilson gets some decent minutes in Sky Blue during Super Rugby Pacific in 2024.

While Gordon has a hold on the starting job, Wilson’s elusive running game could prove lethal against tiring opposition defensive lines late in a contest.

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Team lists won’t be announced until Wednesday, but with the Tahs set to play the Reds in the opening round, there’s every chance Wilson comes up against McDermott at some stage.

“It’s our version of State of Origin. The oldest rivalry pretty much in Australian sport,” Reds co-captain Tate McDermott told reporters at the Super Rugby Pacific season launch on Wednesday.

“A lot of people don’t know that but it’s big. There’s a lot in it, there’s a lot on the line.

“To have them in our home at Suncorp Stadium in a week and a half’s time, it’s brilliant.”

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Poorfour 5 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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