Wallabies new winger could be World Cup bolter after starring against Wales
NSW Waratahs revelation Mark Nawaqanitawase has emerged as an unlikely World Cup go-to man following an inspired spring tour of Europe.
After starting the Super Rugby season on the bench for the Waratahs, Nawaqanitawase finished the year as a stand-out winger on the end of Australia’s backline for the Wallabies’ last three Tests.
The 22-year-old’s second-half try-scoring double sparked the Wallabies’ incredible 39-34 comeback win over Wales from 21 points down with 23 minutes remaining on Saturday night.
But more than just a fine finisher, Nawaqanitawase’s offload and aerial skills, handy off-the-ball work and all-round physical presence are giving the Wallabies a point of difference.
And all this after Nawaqanitawase only made the European tour after fielding a phone call from Wallabies coach Dave Rennie while in Auckland for a holiday with his girlfriend.
Summoned straight back to Sydney, the 192cm X-factor hasn’t looked back since debuting in Australia’s shock 28-27 loss to Italy three weeks ago.
“I guess that’s life,” Nawaqanitawase said after his brace at Principality Stadium.
“Things go up and down sometimes, but I’m grateful for where I am at the moment and I couldn’t score those tries without the boys.”
Rennie has used five wingers during Australia’s 14 Tests this year, with Nawaqanitawase now seemingly jostling with Tom Wright, Andrew Kellaway and Jordan Petaia for the right to partner first-choice strike weapon Marika Koroibete in 2023.
Nawaqanitawase’s spring tour impact has also pushed prized rugby league convert Suliasi Vunivalu further down the pecking order.
Contracted until after next year’s World Cup in France, Vunivalu is fast becoming an expensive problem for Rugby Australia.
The two-time Melbourne Storm premiership winner has failed to make his mark since switching from the NRL in 2021, struggling with injuries before being overlooked for the November tour.
Five minutes off the bench against England in July remains Vunivalu’s only Wallabies time, with Rennie saying the Fiji-born flyer needs to earn his stripes – primarily work more off the ball and read games better – if he is to gain another call-up.
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