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The winners and losers of the Wallabies end-of-year tour squad

By Finn Morton

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Coming off four consecutive wins for the first time since 2017, the Wallabies have named their squad for the upcoming Spring Tour. The men in gold will face Japan later this month, before facing some of Europe’s best sides in November.

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For the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Wallabies had their first taste of rugby against European opposition earlier this year when they played France in three tests in July.

The Wallabies won the closely contested test series two matches to one, which included two wins at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

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But since, under the guidance of coach Dave Rennie, the Wallabies have improved week-to-week. After a 3-0 Bledisloe Cup series loss to the All Blacks, the Wallabies brought in experienced heads Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, who are both currently in exceptional form.

Two wins against the reigning world champions South Africa, including a convincing 30-17 win which was also in Brisbane, seemed to be a turning point for a Wallabies side who are very much on the rise. They then backed it up with back-to-back wins against Los Pumas, a side they drew against twice last year.

After some speculation during the week about the potential ins and out, the Wallabies officially announced their squad for the Spring Tour on Friday. But there are some new faces in this side, with some up-and-coming players missing out.

Winners

Will Skelton (Lock)

Skelton is arguably the headline addition to join the Wallabies for the Spring Tour.

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Standing at 203cm and weighing in between 120 and 130-kilograms, the La Rochelle second rower will quite literally be a big addition to Rennie’s plans to round off the 2021 Test season.

The 29-year-old was lost to Australian rugby in 2017, having played his last match for the Waratahs. A year before, he’d donned Wallabies gold for, what appeared for a while, to potentially have been his final test.

But since moving overseas, Skelton has arguably proven himself to be one of the best locks in the world. He’s predominately played his rugby abroad at English club Saracens, where he was part of two Premiership crowns, and a Champions Cup title as well. 

Rory Arnold (Lock)

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Another European-based player, Arnold is back in the Wallabies fold for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

After the prestigious event, the Wallabies had a bit a locking crisis, with Arnold – who started in the quarterfinal against England in Oita – heading overseas, as well as the replacement second rower in that match, Adam Coleman.

While they weren’t the only locks to leave Australian rugby for opportunities abroad, the Wallabies’ second row depth was put to test. But now, with Arnold returning alongside Skelton, and with Izack Rodda, Matt Philip and Darcy Swain impressing, they’ve got plenty of options in this position to go toe-to-toe with the best.

Playing for State Toulousain, the 31-year-old will bring some valuable experience and skill into the Wallabies squad. Standing five centimetres taller than Skelton (208cm), his size as well would be a welcomed addition to any team looking to get better. 

Tolu Latu (Hooker)

The Wallabies are bringing another experienced name back into the squad for the Spring Tour, with Tolu Latu named as another key addition.

Just like Arnold, Latu’s last game in the green and gold was against England in the quarter-final at the 2019 World Cup. Interestingly, this match was at Oita Stadium which is where the Wallabies play their next test against Japan.

The Stade Francais hooker could potentially challenge for a starting spot, but will face some competition with Folau Fainga’a having proven himself a reliable option already. But regardless of who starts, this is unquestionably a major boost to the Wallabies’ depth in this position.

Izaia Perese (Centre)

Perese was originally named in the Wallabies’ squad for their test matches against France earlier this year, but was ruled out with a shoulder injury before getting the chance to make his debut. But the opportunity to play Test rugby for the first time is well and truly back on the cards for the Waratahs centre, who was included in the Spring Tour squad.

The 24-year-old began his Super Rugby career with the Queensland Reds, where he made 17 appearances. He’s had experiences within the Wallabies environment before, having been included as a development player before.

He’s since made appearances for Rugby League side, Brisbane Broncos, as well as French club Bayonne.

Since returning to Australian rugby with the Waratahs, Perese has been in fine form for the Tahs. If he gets his chance to make his debut on this upcoming Tour, he may prove to be a reliable option for the Wallabies when called upon going forward.

Honourable mentions

Connal McInerney (Hooker)

McInerney is another uncapped player included in the Wallabies squad for the upcoming Tour. The Brumbies hooker was called into the Wallabies squad in October of last year.

The 26-year-old has had to prove himself at Super Rugby level, initially added to the Brumbies squad as an injury replacement. But it seems as if that Rennie sees something in McInerney that may make him an international option going forward.

Pone Fa’amausili (Prop)

Still yet to make his test debut, it only seems like a matter of when not if for Pone Fa’amausili.

The Rebels Prop had an unforgettable Super Rugby season in 2020, with an eye-catching campaign in Super Rugby AU.

The 24-year-old was included in Rennie’s Wallabies plans last year, but might finally get his chance to make a Test appearance during the tour up north.

Lalakai Foketi (Centre)

Foketi is another Waratahs Centre who’s uncapped at Test level, who may get his chance to shine on the world stage over the next couple of months.

Foketi was included in the Wallabies plans ahead of the three-match test series against France, but wasn’t used.

Losers

Fraser McReight (Flanker), Harry Wilson (No 8), Noah Lolesio (Flyhalf)

The three of these players are big outs for the Wallabies, but calling them ‘losers’ here is a big unjustified – it’s just a catchy title.

The three up-and-coming players will have the opportunity to have a full pre-season with their Super Rugby clubs, which could prove to be a masterstroke by Dave Rennie.  

Without a doubt, these three players have the potential to be stars of the sport going forward. But in order to get to that mark, and what may be best for the Wallabies, is letting these three work towards that mark during pre-season.

While McReight, Wilson and Lolesio may have technically been dropped, it’s arguably the best thing for them at the moment.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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The winners and losers of the Wallabies end-of-year tour squad

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