The Future of Rugby: Australia U23
There have been noticeable improvements in two areas of Australian rugby in recent years and that has been in the depth and competition the nation is producing in the front row, as well as the improvements made across the board at the U20 level last season. Both of those features show up heavily in our XV below.
For the purposes of this selection, only players aged 23 years of age or below on May 1st 2020 were considered eligible, yet there were still plenty of tough calls to make, most noticeably in the back row and among the props.
- Jack Maddocks, Waratahs
An honourable mention for Isaac Lucas, with the versatile Reds playmaker capable of featuring in this XV at multiple positions, though Maddocks is the leading contender at this point in time. The former Melbourne Rebel has seen his opportunities to impress at the Waratahs limited by the Coronavirus outbreak, but he is a proven performer with the Wallabies already and offers Dave Rennie consistency moving forward.
- Jordan Petaia, Reds
Petaia burst onto the scene last year when he made the Australian Rugby World Cup squad, though keen watchers of age-grade rugby will have already been well aware of his offensive ability on the wing or at outside centre. If he can stay fit, the sky is the limit for Petaia, who looks to be on a trajectory towards plenty of caps in the green and gold of the Wallabies.
- Campbell Magnay, Melbourne Rebels
Like Petaia, Magnay burst onto the scene at an early age, although his path has since diverged somewhat from that early steep upward trajectory. He moved to Japan for a period, something which took him off the radar for the Wallabies, though he is now back in Australia and with the Rebels. If he can begin to build on that early promise, there’s no reason why he can’t get himself back in contention for senior international involvement.
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- Noah Lolesio, Brumbies
The Auckland-born centre has thrived at the Brumbies and is one of the key building blocks in their youth movement moving forward. His transition from age-grade rugby to Super Rugby has been a smooth one and he is a player that Rennie will likely have his eye on, especially if he is looking for a distributing and creative option at inside centre.
- Mark Nawaqanitawase, Waratahs
The 19-year-old wing has another year of U20 eligibility left, although off the back of his early season performances for the Waratahs, there’s a very good chance his availability for the U20s would have been limited, as the Sydney-based franchise began to lean on him in the matchday 23. Alongside Petaia, Rennie has two exciting new wings to blood and build around over the coming seasons.
- Reesjan Pasitoa, Brumbies
Will Harrison and Hamish Stewart have the advantage on Pasitoa in terms of years of experience and Super Rugby involvement, though the Brumbies 10 is a rare mix of technical and physical talent. The Brumbies successfully warded off interest from the NRL and AFL in the gifted playmaker and he has already made his senior debut, despite the fact this is just his first season out of school. If they can manage his development successfully, he could be the next long-term Wallaby fly-half.
- Tate McDermott, Reds
There have been a number of false dawns among young Australian scrum-halves in recent years and the side has still been heavily reliant on the likes of Will Genia and Nic White. McDermott won’t want to fall in that same trap, as he has the athleticism around the fringes and measured passing game to be a good option at international level in the future.
- Angus Bell, Waratahs
Harry Hoopert is another name here, whilst Harry Johnson-Holmes even has a cap for the Wallabies, something which makes the decision to include Bell even more significant. Bell was the global pick of looseheads in U20 rugby last season and his potent blend of physicality and set-piece skill should come to the fore in Super Rugby sooner rather than later.
- Jordan Uelese, Melbourne Rebels
Mentions for Lachlan Lonergan and Alex Mafi, both of whom illustrate the depth and competition that Australian rugby is building in the front row positions, though Uelese holds them both off for now. The hooker has made himself an integral part of the Rebels squad and has thrown his hat into the mix with Tolu Latu and Folau Fainga’a to be the Wallaby incumbent moving forward.
- Taniela Tupou, Reds
This spot was always going to go to Tupou, or the ‘Tongan Thor’ as he is otherwise known, thanks to his impressive displays for both the Reds and the Wallabies in recent seasons. It’s hard to see anyone displacing Tupou in the short-term, though if a challenge is going to come, don’t rule out Shambeckler Vui, whose potential is considerable if he can bring his set-piece game up to the same level of his contributions in the loose.
- Izack Rodda, Reds
The Reds theme continues with Rodda, with the abrasive and physical lock having made himself an important part of the starting Australian pack. With Rob Simmons heading into the twilight of his career and Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold having packed their bags for Europe, Rodda could soon find himself as the cornerstone on the Wallaby engine room.
- Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Reds
Salakaia-Loto can play in the second row or at blindside and is another example of the excellent work the Reds have been doing bringing through their talented youngsters in recent seasons. He holds off the likes of Nick Frost and Harry Hockings for now, though his long-term position for Australia may end up being predominantly as a flanker.
- Harry Wilson, Reds
The Reds’ domination of this pack continues as Wilson narrowly edges out the Waratahs’ Pat Tafa, with both having impressed for the U20 side last season. Wilson was the perfect physical foil for the mobility and jackaling on offer with Australia’s fetcher opensides. The only thing that could hold Wilson back is if the Wallabies, thanks to their stock of opensides, opt for a pair of them in their back row, rather than the more physical option that Wilson offers.
- Fraser McReight, Reds
A bold call to go with McReight over his club teammate and Reds captain Liam Wright, with both offering bucket loads of ability and potential. McReight may end up having to leave Queensland if he is to truly flourish outside of Wright’s shadow and there is no doubt that Rennie will be keen to work with both of them moving forward. It is McReight’s vice-like grip over the ball on the deck that swung this call his way.
- Will Harris, Waratahs
Last but certainly not least we come to Harris. Harris was an integral part of the U20 back row alongside Wilson, Tafa and McReight last season and offers something that has become somewhat rare in Australian rugby, a traditional power-carrying No 8. Australia don’t lack for options in the back row, though Harris is a little bit different to most of the back rowers who have been produced in recent seasons.
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