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Wallabies player ratings: Two outside back stars shine as World Cup bolter emerges

By Finn Morton
(Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

The wounded Wallabies showed plenty of fight, passion and character throughout a tough international season where they didn’t win as many games as they deserved.

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Time and time again, week after week, indiscipline and inconsistent team selections ultimately hurt the Wallabies who lost a number of crunch clashes by agonisingly small margins.

Australia started their season with a bang, beating rivals England in Perth by two points – but wins proved hard to come by throughout the rest of 2022.

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After losing their next two Test matches against their old foes England – and the series on home soil – the men in gold lost four of their next six matches before heading to Europe.

The Wallabies overcame a valiant Scotland at Murrayfield by one point to begin their five match spring tour, before losing their next three Tests by three points or less – including a first ever loss to Italy.

While they were able to complete an incredible comeback against Wales to finish their season, the disastrous run of form cannot be ignored less than a year out from the World Cup.

The rugby world saw glimpses of greatness from the men in gold throughout their spring tour and the year as a whole, but they’re just slightly off the pace.

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But don’t rule them out from winning rugby’s greatest prize next year just yet.

This week, RugbyPass will berating the Wallabies players’ performances from the year that was. First up, we take a look at how the outside backs performed this year.

 

Outside Backs

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Tom Wright – 7.5

Played: 13 (13 starts)

Best performance: England III

Wright certainly did the gold jersey justice throughout his best international season to date, where he played at a consistently high level across 13 Test matches. While the former NRL utility back didn’t score many tries, he was simply electrifying every time he touched the ball. The 25-year-old regularly led the team in run metres, and he also showcased his versatility – running out on both the wing and at fullback this season.

Wright’s best performance of the season came in the epic series decider against England at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground. The star winger scored a brilliant try mid-way through the first half, in what was otherwise a standout performance. Wright ran the ball 13 times for a staggering 113 metres, where he made two line breaks and broke five tackles.

Considering the depth Australia have in their outside backs, Wright arguably had a point to prove a year out from the World Cup – well, so does every player really. But if he can continue this form into Super Rugby with the Brumbies then Wright can’t possibly be left out of the Wallabies’ squad to head to France.

 

Marika Koroibete – 7.5

Played: 9 (9 starts)

Best performance: South Africa I

Koroibete is the best winger in the world – it’s as simple as that. While he missed the entirety of Australia’s end-of-season tour, the 30-year-old was still named in World Rugby’s dream team last month.

The rugby world watched on in awe earlier this year as Koroibete took his game to a completely new level against reigning World Cup champions South Africa in Adelaide. Koroibete ran the ball with purpose and intent – as he always does – and that was impressive on its own, but nobody will soon forget that tackle. Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi had mere metres out from the try-line when a rampaging Koroibete came charging over from the other wing, and met him with one of the tackles of the year.

 

Mark Nawaqanitawase – 7

Played: 3 (3 starts)

Best performance: Wales

Nawaqanitawase wasn’t nominated for World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year, he simply made his Test debut too late, but he might be the find of the year anyway. The rising star was simply phenomenal in his three Test starts, including a player of the match display against Wales.

The Welsh crowd at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium burst into a loud cheer as winger Rio Dyer crossed for a try against Australia last month – seemingly extending the home sides lead to an unconquerable margin. But don’t sleep on the Wallabies. Australia were able to fight their way back from 21-points to snatch the lead in the dying stages, and winger Nawaqanitawase was the key.

Nawaqanitawase scored two tries in 10 minutes to get the men in gold back into the contest, but was otherwise working tirelessly to get involved. An incredible find for Dave Rennie and the Wallabies, and he would seemingly be a genuine bolter to make the World Cup squad.

 

Andrew Kellaway – 6.5

Played: 8 (6 starts)

Best performance: All Blacks I

Kellaway is simply a must for the Wallabies’ World Cup squad. While the utility back didn’t stand out as much as he has done in the past, his versatility is just too good to turn down. Playing on both the wing and at fullback, Kellaway was impressive in the opening Test against England in July.

But without a shadow of a doubt, in my mind, Kellaway’s best performance of the year was the thrilling Bledisloe Cup Test in Melbourne. Not only did he score a couple of tries, but he was generally lethal in both attack and defence – was a key part of Australia’s valiant display.

 

Jordan Petaia – 6

Played: 9 (4 starts)

Best performance: Ireland

Jordan Petaia is only 22-years-old, and while many expect or want greatness from him right away, there is still plenty of time for him to develop into a Wallabies superstar. Injuries have stunted the up-and-comers rise since he made his Test debut at the 2019 World Cup, and this year was similar.

Petaia had his chance to start against England at Suncorp Stadium earlier this year, but he left the field for a concussion test – and was later ruled out of the decider. But he still had his chances to impress this year.

The rising star’s best moment from the year was undoubtedly his try against Ireland at Dublin, which gave the Wallabies the chance to level the scores against the worlds’ No 1 team. Petaia has been highly touted since playing GPS High School rugby in Brisbane, and we saw why with this score – slicing through the Ireland defence to cross for a five-pointer.

 

Jock Campbell – 6

Played: 5 (2 starts)

Best performance: France

After an impressive series of matches with Australia A, Campbell was called up to the Wallabies squad for their spring tour. While he didn’t have much of an opportunity to impress off the bench in his debut against Scotland – although he did catch Blair Kinghorn’s missed penalty attempt – he made up for it the next week.

Campbell scored a try and played a crucial part in another as the Wallabies appeared to be heading towards an incredible upset win against World No. 2 France. But a did miss a tackle inside the final minutes which ultimately saw France score and win the match.

Overall, some great signs for the future.

 

Reece Hodge – 5

Played: 6 (3 starts) *in the outside backs or #23 jersey

Best performance: South Africa I

Australia’s Mr Fix It covers so many different positions that he’s going to pop up in a few of these pieces this week. Hodge has played in the midfield and halves as well in the gold jersey, but this year he was able to make his mark out the back.

Playing at fullback against the world champion Springboks in Adelaide, Hodge was a reliable option under the high ball and generally did his job. But if we’re grading him simply as an outside back, then other players simply outperformed him.

 

Suliasi Vunivalu – N/A

Played: 1 (0 starts)

Best performance: England

Vunivalu has the potential to be one of the best wingers in Australia – if not the world – but he just wasn’t able to make the most of his chance in gold this year. The former Melbourne Storm flyer made his international debut against England earlier this year, but only had one run.

 

Tom Banks – N/A

Played: 2 (2 starts)

Best performance: France

It’s hard to grade Banks who was injured in the opening Test match of the year. Australian rugby fans will certainly be eager to see how he fares in Super Rugby next year, ahead of the World Cup where he’ll likely play a major role.

 

Izaia Perese – N/A

Played: 1 (0 starts)

Perese only donned the coveted Wallabies jersey once this year, but he left the field with a knee injury. Earlier in that Test against Eddie Jones’ England in Brisbane, the former NRL star was controversially yellow carded.

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