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Where Warren Gatland's Wales are poised to do the most damage

The best single unit in the Wales side is the formidable back row.

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The best backline in the world: How the Wallabies compare to other teams

By Finn Morton
(Photos / Getty Images)

In a Rugby World Cup year, anything can happen. Past results can be both forgiven and forgotten as the world’s best teams and players look to prove themselves on the biggest stage of all.

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But there can only be one champion.

They can’t all be the best.

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The childhood dreams of superstar athletes will either be realised or crushed later this year as teams put it all on the line in the pursuit of rugby immortality.

International rugby has never been this competitive, but the pressure and scrutiny that players are under has also never been so fierce.

External factors have been deemed somewhat irrelevant by passionate fans and pundits – rugby is ultimately a results driven industry; success has always been the expectation.

While practically every nation came under fire last year following any lacklustre results, there was one fallen giant who received a barrage of criticism that couldn’t be ignored.

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The Wallabies weren’t great last year. Plain and simple, they needed to win more – and they deserved to.

Wins proved hard to come by as an injury crisis took it’s toll on the team who called Down Under home.

More than 50 played donned the treasured gold jersey last year, which somewhat defined their season.

Coach Dave Rennie was unable to select his best players week after week due to injuries, and the team lacked cohesion out of the field.

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But there were glimpses of greatness.

If the Wallabies can avert another disastrous injury toll this year, then they’ll pose a genuine threat at the World Cup.

In fact, they’ll have the best backline at this year’s World Cup.

As the adage goes, there’s no ‘I’ in team.

While some of these players may not be the best in the world individually, the combinations and potential of this team makes the Wallabies’ backline great.

It takes a team to win a World Cup. It takes a team to be the best.

 

Nic White

Position: Scrumhalf

Tests in 2022: 12 (10 starts)

Backup: Tate McDermott, Jake Gordon

The Wallabies would really struggle in big test matches without Nic White.

The star halfback is a bit of an unsung hero for the men in gold; sometimes he flies under the radar, but his influence can’t be ignored.

If Australia are to have any success this year in either The Rugby Championship or at the World Cup, then White has to perform.

The 32-year-old holds the key to the Wallabies’ success.

White performed at a consistently high level for both club and country last year, as he took his game to an all-new level.

Not only is he quick, accurate and effective, but supporters around the world witnessed some rugby genius from the scrumhalf in 2022.

Kicking the ball out on the bounce to bring an end to a thrilling test against Scotland was simply brilliant – definitely a highlight for any and all rugby tragics.

But it has to be said: he’s not the best halfback in the world. In fact, he wouldn’t be in the top three.

France has superstar Antoine Dupont in their ranks, the All Blacks have Aaron Smith, and the champion Springboks have Faf de Klerk.

They all bring something different, they know their role, and that’s important. The scrumhalf is the link between the forwards and the backs, and none of these stars overplay their hand.

The same can be said for White.

Nic White is exactly what the Wallabies need, and the one-two punch with either Tate McDermott or Jake Gordon off the bench is lethal.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: Jamison Gibson-Park, Connor Murray, Craig Casey

France: Antoine Dupont

NZ: Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Finlay Christie, TJ Perenara

RSA: Faf de Klerk, Jaden Hendrikse

England: Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs, Harry Randall

 

Quade Cooper

Position: Flyhalf

Tests in 2022: 1 (1 start)

Backup: Noah Lolesio, James O’Connor, Ben Donaldson, Bernard Foley

Cooper was sidelined for almost the entirety of the 2022 international season, but we all know what he’s capable of.

If there was a test tomorrow and he was fit and healthy, the 34-year-old would walk back into the Wallabies’ starting team. That No. 10 jersey is all but his.

Once heralded as a superstar of international rugby, Cooper made a triumphant return to the test arena a couple of years ago.

The skillful pivot played a crucial role in a thrilling win over South Africa on the Gold Coast – proving to the world that he’s more than capable of playing at this level.

There are some brilliant first fives around the world – some who play a more traditional game like Ireland’s Johnny Sexton – but Cooper certainly holds his own among a talented list of names.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery

France: Romain Ntamack

NZ: Richie Mo’unga

RSA: Damian Willemse,

England: Marcus Smith, George Ford

 

Marika Koroibete

Position: Wing

Tests in 2022: 9 (9 starts)

Backup: Tom Wright

Marika Koroibete is the best winger in test rugby. I can’t imagine there’ll be too many arguments with that statement either.

Koroibete was named in World Rugby’s dream team last year after another phenomenal campaign in the coveted gold jersey.

The former Melbourne Storm winger took his game to a completely new level, with his best highlight coming against reigning World Cup champions South Africa.

Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi was stopped just short of the try-line after Koroibete flew over from the other side of the field in cover defence.

The rampaging winger offers something completely unique compared to other players around the world, and will undoubtedly continue to benefit from the all-star talent around him.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: James Lowe

France: Gabin Villiere

NZ: Caleb Clarke

RSA: Makazole Mapimpi

England: Jonny May

 

Samu Kerevi

Position: Inside centre

Tests in 2022: 3 (3 starts)

Backup: Lalakai Foketi

When the Wallabies named their first squad of the year a couple of days ago, one name stood out to me.

Samu Kerevi is back in the national setup after an injury-ravaged year in 2022.

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After starting all three test matches against England on Australian soil, the world-class centre suffered a season ending injury while playing sevens at the Commonwealth Games.

Straight off the bat, the Wallabies only have the best backline in the world if Kerevi is involved. Without Kerevi, this team is a lot different – it just doesn’t pack the same punch.

Very few players in test rugby would walk into any team in the world, and Kerevi is one of them.

Comparing him to other players around the world, he’s most similar to Ireland’s Bundee Aki or France’s Jonathan Danty. All three players are destructive in both attack and defence, and can make players at the top of their field look like schoolboys.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw

France: Jonathan Danty

NZ: Jordie Barrett, David Havili

RSA: Damian de Allende

England: Owen Farrell, Henry Slade

 

Len Ikitau

Position: Centre

Tests in 2022: 9 (8 starts)

Backup: Hunter Paisami

It’s hard to believe that Len Ikitau only entered the fray of test rugby in 2021. Throughout his two seasons in Wallaby gold, the rising star has simply been brilliant.

Ikitau has to be one of the first names on Dave Rennie’s team sheet every week, as he now stands on the cusp of world class status; and he’s nowhere near the peak of his powers just yet.

The 24-year-old reminds me of Anton Lienert-Brown in his prime, especially defensively, as a player who just can’t be dropped.

Ikitau stood up as a leader while Kerevi was out injured last year, and that clearly worked wonders for his confidence.

That combination with Kerevi has the potential to be the modern day Nonu-Smith combination, which proved to be an instrumental part in the All Blacks’ success.

Ikitau might not be as good as Gael Fickou, Jesse Kriel, Rieko Ioane or Manu Tuilagi yet, but that combination is the difference.

Truly, it has the potential to cause chaos at this year’s World Cup – and potentially bring Bill back Down Under.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: Garry Ringrose

France: Gael Fickou

NZ: Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown

RSA: Jesse Kriel

England: Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant

 

Mark Nawaqanitawase

Position: Wing

Tests in 2022: 3 (3 starts)

Backup: Andrew Kellaway, Jordan Petaia

Nawaqanitawase has only played three test matches in Wallaby gold, but clearly, his potential is seemingly limitless.

After making his debut against Italy, Nawaqanitawase saved his performance for last in 2022.

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The rising star scored two tries in 10 minutes as the Wallabies recorded a legendary comeback win over Wales in Cardiff.

But across all three matches, Nawaqanitawase showed his brute strength when running the ball and his elusive ability to beat defenders as well.

The 22-year-old offers versatility that some other wingers don’t, and that’s why he stands out so much – and has seemingly all but booked his ticket to France.

 

How the top five nations compare

Ireland: Andrew Conway

France: Damian Penaud

NZ: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Mark Telea

RSA: Cheslin Kolbe, Kurt-Lee Arendse

England: Jack Nowell

 

Tom Banks

Position: Fullback

Tests in 2022: 2 (2 starts)

Backup: Jock Campbell, Reece Hodge

The Wallabies’ injury toll last year was no joke. Banks, who started two tests throughout the year, was injured during Australia’s first match of 2022.

But Banks isn’t exactly new to international rugby either. Everyone knows what he’s capable of.

The 28-year-old does exactly what he needs to do out on the field, without being overly flashy or involved.

Comparing him to other players, Banks doesn’t play the game the same way as the likes of Beauden Barrett, Willie Le Roux or Freddie Steward.

But the star fullback plays the game how the Wallabies need him to, and that’s what makes him so important to this team and this backline so great.

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