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The key challenges facing Joe Schmidt's inexperienced Wallabies side

By John Ferguson
Liam Wilson and Josh Flook of the Wallabies. Photos by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for ARU.

Joe Schmidt has named his first ever Wallabies matchday-23, with no less than seven uncapped players, two of whom are in the starting XV.

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Despite the big surprises, there is also a whole lot of excitement for the side named to face Wales in Sydney on Saturday night.

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It’s a new-look side with players returning from the Test-match wilderness while other more experienced heads have moved to the bench.

Schmidt has kept his cards very close to his chest when it has come to selections, a captain and gameplan specifics, the former two have now finally been revealed but the latter remains to be seen.

What we do know about Schmidt’s gameplan is that it’ll be a fast one.

“We’d obviously like to be able to play with some tempo and I don’t think that will surprise anyone,” Schmidt said last Thursday after the Wallabies’ first few days in camp.

“I think that it’s a way that the players like to play the game and you want players to enjoy playing.”

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As well as tempo, it has also become apparent Schmidt has a desire to play high-possession rugby.

Tempo and high-possession rugby are not styles which have worked for recent Wallabies teams.

Inaccuracy at the attacking breakdown typified by poor body-height into contact, poor connection between carriers, cleaners, and sealers as well as poor cleaning technique have seen too many Wallaby attacks go up in smoke as they near the try line.

Several Wallabies have spoken about the “peeled-back” and “simple” nature of Schmidt’s initial weeks with the team, where the team has been focusing on the small details rather than implementing immediate and sweeping change.

Having the high tempo and possession gameplan in mind, with the issues of ball retention in recent years still fresh in the memory, how will this side fare in executing such a gameplan?

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It will start with the gaineline carries and good post-contact metres.

Tupou, Valetini and LSL will be charged with generating the bulk of the go-forward ball for the forward pack.
Also having LSL behind Tupou at scrum time bodes well for a strong and well-anchored scrum.

Slipper, Faessler, Wright and the first of the two XV debutants Williams, must all clean rucks like demons to perpetuate the go-forward ball from the carriers.

Williams and LSL are an untested combination but if Super Rugby Pacific form is anything to go by, it’ll provide durability and grunt in the engine room.

There is a question surrounding Williams’ size as a Test level lock, but he will get a good showing with the mountain of work ahead of him in his first outing.

In a high possession gameplan Wright is your man, his numbers for ‘attacking rucks hit’ during SRP were impeccable, and his timing, technique, and urgency when clearing rucks made a significant difference to the Reds.

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Wright has huge responsibility in not only calling the lineout but in wearing the captain’s armband as the Wallabies’ 89th captain.

While the forwards do their bit to set the platform, Jake Gordon and Noah Lolesio must ensure the Wallabies are playing rugby in the right parts of the field.

The duo has good history together, both were there when the Wallabies won the French series in 2021.

The duo has shown calmness at times when things weren’t going right for their club sides this year, promising signs for the Test arena.

The accuracy of Lolesio’s boot in general play and off-the-tee will be crucial in keeping the Wallabies efficient in attack, and to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Debutant Josh Flook will partner his Reds teammate Hunter Paisami in the centres.

While the spotlight will be on Flook as the Test-rookie, Paisami has a huge night ahead of him.

Paisami has played with Lolesio at Test-level and this connection will be crucial in providing go-forward ball for him and in alleviating some playmaking pressure off the young flyhalf.

Once Lolesio has got the side in the A-zone, returning Wallabies Daugunu and Wright must finish it all off by crossing the chalk.

While his feet are as fast as anyone’s, Daugunu’s presence in defence and at the breakdown will be the most important aspect of his game on Saturday night.

As for the bench, Schmidt has kept the new faces coming with 23-year-old Isaac Aedo Kailea getting the no.17 jersey and dynamic Brumby Charlie Cale slotting in as the backrow replacement.

The duo offers as much at set-piece time as it does in the loose.

Kailea has scrummaged extremely well in his breakout season for the Rebels, but also provides a good carry option. Similarly, Cale enjoyed some of the most impressive lineout-steal and lineout-win stats in SRP as well as some scintillating broken field running.

Despite his razzle-dazzle, Cale will be judged on his ability to do the tough stuff, with some questioning whether he is heavy enough currently for Test rugby.

The uncapped players keep on coming with shock inclusion Angus Blyth slotting in as the lock replacement, similarly, all eyes will be on how he steps up in the physicality of international rugby.

Tom Lynagh looks set to follow in his father Michael’s footsteps having secured a spot on the bench, which may see his Reds partnership with McDermott take centre stage at the Test level.

It’s a methodical way to introduce the young gun to Test footy, who will likely have his Reds no.12 outside him as well, should Lynagh debut.

The final potential debutant is Dylan Pietsch, with the Waratah winger poised to become just the 15th Indigenous Wallaby should he enter the fray.

His hard running lines and work in contact will make a big difference as the contest gets into its latter stages.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
26
29
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
60%

Prediction

Amongst all the excitement of debutants, and returning favourites, are the facts.

The Wallabies must be at their best, because despite what the bookies saying Australia are the heavy favourites, the 40-6 defeat at the World Cup in France only nine months ago is still too raw for any Aussie to accept the ‘favourites.’

The tight-five has long been a concern for the Wallabies and now there’s an opportunity to begin to change that narrative, the starting pack has the starch and experience to make a real fist of it.

On paper, the side looks capable of a ‘high-tempo, high-possession game’, but the reality is, this is a very inexperienced 23, while the starting XV hold their own against a similarly inexperienced Welsh side.

Despite the inexperience, there are established ‘forgotten’ connections throughout the side with eleven of the starting XV having played Test Rugby together before.

But the instability in the 23 means it will be anyone’s game for the full 80 and neither side can afford to slack off, even for a second.

There will be disorganisation, mistakes, and a lack of cohesion, but this Wallabies side along with the coaching outfit have the talent to claim victory in Sydney on Saturday night.

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Comments

2 Comments
B
Barry 13 days ago

Half the starting 15 uncapped and Joe is the coach…

What!!!?

He should have remortgaged the house if he needed coin rather than taking this job.

j
john 13 days ago

What you really mean by big surprises is wacko selections by a kiwi living in NZ.
Jake Gordon, Blyth and Liam Wright are not even in the top 3 in their positions in Australia.

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finn 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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