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The five 'lost' Wallabies who could find their best positions under Joe Schmidt

By John Ferguson
Wallabies Tom Hooper and Jordan Petaia. (Photos by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images/Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Wallabies have a new head coach in Joe Schmidt, and in his own words this is “a clean slate” for players, giving them the chance to forge new destinies in the gold jersey.

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Schmidt by all accounts is a pragmatic and hard task master with a focus on structure, work rate, and defining standards.

“A lot of the things that you do in rugby, don’t take a whole lot of talent. They take a whole lot of effort, they take a little bit of intelligence and IP in the game, and then the talent tends to be the icing on the cake” Schmidt told reporters at the launch of the British and Irish Lions tour tickets in Sydney this week.

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How Schmidt views the current crop of Wallabies is so far unknown but there are a few players in the current crop of Wallabies who could benefit from a guiding hand by Schmidt as well as some clarity on where they could add the most impact in a gold jersey.

Below are five Wallabies that are without a distinct position at international level, which has meant they have not been as influential at test level as they have been for their Super Rugby sides.

Jordan Petaia – Queensland Reds, Wing

Petaia is no longer a ‘prodigy’ or a player of ‘potential’, he is simply a 31 cap Wallaby.

The 24-year-old has featured heavily at fullback for the Queensland Reds in recent seasons, while at the Wallabies he has played at either outside centre or wing.

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It’s safe to say that without being extraordinary, he did a good job at fullback for club and in the other positions for country.

Currently, clinical tacticians like Hugo Keenan are the preferred model for test level fullbacks as opposed to the bigger lads.

Petaia has a big stride which bamboozles defenders, brute strength to bump them off and a vertical leap most players would be proud to possess.

While he has played a myriad of positions, his biggest successes have come on the wing for both club and country.

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The position gives him a licence to roam, without the added responsibility of managing the backfield, it also allows him to play at his instinctive best.

A player of his pace and size floating off the playmaker’s shoulder would cause havoc for most defensive lines.

It’s clear to see that Petaia is a special athlete, but Schmidt demands high work rate and this is in element Petaia must show if he would like to feature under Schmidt.

Petaia, should he decide to stay in Australian rugby, has a chance to claim the Wallabies’ 14 jersey.

Izaia Perese – NSW Waratahs, Inside centre

Perese has pace, brawn, and lightning acceleration, these three attributes has helped him carve out a very handy highlight reel at the Tahs.

Despite his success, the dominance of Len Ikitau at outside centre at test level has meant Perese has been squeezed in elsewhere, resulting in only five Wallaby caps
to his name.

By shifting from outside to inside centre, it would allow him to use his pace and power to get his team on the front foot and act as a handy bail out option for a under
pressure flyhalf.

The role of a test match inside centre is currently to be a big-ball runner with a lot of physicality, assets which Perese brings in spades.

The shift from outside to inside centre also alleviates the need to be a defence line leader, as well as having to regularly make defensive reads, areas of his game that
have been criticised.

Equally, Perese’s imposing figure and acceleration would also have opposition thinking twice about playing flat, forcing them to change their attack structure.
While Samu Kerevi has held the jersey for the last two years and Hunter Paisami before him, Perese could be the spanner in the works to get the best out of all three.

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Tom Wright – ACT Brumbies, Wing

Tom Wright has done exceptionally well to fill the void left by Tom Banks at fullback at the Brumbies since 2022.

He is an electric finisher with power, speed, and great counterattacking vision. While Wright is one of the most exciting players to watch due to his unpredictability,
this mercurial nature has meant he has not always been reliable.

Kicking the ball away in the first couple phases when his team was hot on attack inside the oppositions’ half became a habit in 2023.

The habit was exacerbated because he was playing at fullback and meant he touched the ball more frequently as a second playmaker.

Similarly, Wright struggled with defensive reads and defensive positioning at 15 which at times saw opposition score preventable points throughout SRP in 2023.

It should be noted this trope did not present itself in his two games for the Wallabies in 2023, as he actively addressed the issue, making 9/11 tackles for the Wallabies as opposed to 28/40 for the Brumbies in the regular 2023 SRP season.

He can still bring the best of his attacking flair to the fore from the wing without the added responsibility of a fullback.

If Wright continues to grow as a player, he can play his way back into the Wallabies reckoning, whether Schmidt sees him as a wing or fullback remains to be seen.

Hunter Paisami – Queensland Reds, Inside centre

Paisami had an injury riddled 2023 which saw him overlooked for Wallabies selection.

He has played mostly at outside centre for the Reds and inside centre for the Wallabies due to the rise of Len Ikitau.

He made a name for himself with big hits in defence and the ability to get over the gain line in attack with a low centre of gravity and strong leg drive.

Paisami’s game began to broaden as he added playmaking to his bag of tricks.

He was often seen stepping in as a second playmaker adding a deft kicking and passing game to his arsenal.

The 25-year-old has 25 Wallaby caps under his belt across several years and in 2024 he looks to be stronger and bigger than ever, giving a firing Reds side great go
forward ball.

Some question his size at international level, but the power he brings has matched it with the best in the world.

What Paisami possess is a good all-round game, complete with kicking and playmaking.

Assets which Schmidt may view as crucial as he begins to decide on his first ever Wallabies team.

Tom Hooper – ACT Brumbies, blindside flanker

Hooper played mostly blindside or openside flanker for the Wallabies last year but spent most of the 2023 season in the second row for the Brumbies coming off the
bench.

In 2024 he has again been listed as a lock in their team sheet but has split his time with the backrow.

His big engine, large stature and can-do attitude has him well positioned to play lock, for club but not for country.

In the first few rounds of Super Rugby Pacific 2024 Hooper was unable to impose himself physically on the bigger teams.

He is still growing into his frame and learning his trade, particularly around how to best make and take contacts.

The Wallabies are without a blindside flanker it’s true, and although Hooper may not be the answer in 2024, he could be a valuable and capable understudy to the older brawlers that are strutting their stuff in Australia right now.

Wallabies’ selection under the new head coach is not out of the question for any of these five players, but Schmidt has said he requires effort, consistency and workrate
as well as talent, seeing how Schmidt plans to use this talented group of players will be interesting to see.

 

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Comments

7 Comments
B
Bill 114 days ago

Thanks John, these 5 are possibles but can’t see Hunter or Tom getting a call up. I think after the WC, Andrew Kellaway will hold onto 15, JP may get a wing spot, Lenny will take 13 surely which leaves 12. Not sure if Samu retains that spot.

j
john 114 days ago

Pretty accurate comments John, except for Paisami. I don’t think he is there for international rugby. Great Super Rugby player.

But thank goodness you didn’t go down the Ben Donaldson pump up the Randwick boy path. Edmed has far greater potential. Donaldson is still lucky to be the 5th best 10 in Australia.

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