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Wallabies player ratings: Tight five struggled to excel during tough year

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Daniel Jayo/Getty Images)

The wounded Wallabies showed plenty of fight, passion and character throughout a tough international season where they failed to win as many games as they probably deserved.

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Time and time again, week after week, poor discipline and inconsistent team selections 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 – 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 side at Murrayfield to begin their five match spring tour, before losing their next three Test matches 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 the year, the disastrous run of form cannot be ignored less than a year out from the World Cup.

But don’t rule them out just yet.

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This week, RugbyPass will be rating the Wallabies players’ performances from the year that was. After reviewing the outside backs, midfield, halves and loose forwards, today we’re going to finish the series by taking a look at how the tight five performed this year.

 

Prop

James Slipper – 6.5/10

Played: 14 (12 starts)

Best performance: South Africa I

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While the Australian forward pack struggled in some Tests to match the physicality of their opponents, Slipper still found a way to lead by example as he embodied his role as the new captain of the Wallabies.

It didn’t matter if the Wallabies were struggling at the set-piece or breakdown, the Test veteran was working tirelessly around the park to make an impact wherever he could – and I truly believe that was a factor in some Test matches. Take the game against Scotland as an example, Slipper played almost 70 minutes and scored Australia’s only try of the Test, as he led his team to a thrilling win.

Slipper also played 14 Test matches this year, only missing one match which was against Italy in Florence. The 33-year-old also started all but two of the Tests he featured in this year, which just goes to show how important he is to this Wallabies team.

 

Allan Alaalatoa – 6.5

Played: 11 (10 starts)

Best performance: South Africa I

Allan Alaalatoa is another player who I believe, may have taken his game to another level in the back end of the campaign. Especially during the Autumn Nations Series, the star prop was in the thick of the action in both attack and defence.

While Alaalatoa didn’t start the season too well, performing at a below average standard in the first Test against England before failing to make the matchday squad for the second match, he finished the year in some impressive form.

One of his best performances of the year came against Italy – the very Test where he became the 85th captain in the history of the Wallabies. At RugbyPass we gave him a 7-out-of-10 rating for that Test, which was equal-second for the year only to his performance against South Africa in Adelaide.

 

Taniela Tupou – 6

Played: 10 (6 starts)

Best performance: England II

The man known as the Tongan Thor was always going to be rated as of the best front rowers in the Wallabies squad. Tupou is simply lethal in both attack and defence, as he makes some international superstars look like schoolboys – if only for a second.

It doesn’t matter whether Tupou starts or comes off the bench; whenever he’s called upon by Dave Rennie, he knows how to make an impact. The rugby world saw it in Test matches this year where he came on and almost instantly gave a lift to the Australian scrum. As one of the most powerful and destructive players in the game, he almost never disappoints when he takes the field.

But unfortunately for both the star prop and Wallabies, Tupou sustained an injury against World No. 1 Ireland.

 

Angus Bell – 5.5

Played: 4 (2 starts)

Best performance: England II

Injured plagued Bell’s 2022 international campaign, as he aggravated a problem he sustained during the three-match series with England. But going off what we saw from Bell this season, he truly has the potential to become something special in international rugby.

Bell scrums exceptionally well and we witnessed that during the second Test against England, but he also works really hard to make his mark elsewhere as well. While the 22-year-old can still be classified as a rising star, he needs to be at the World Cup. Bell has a massive Super Rugby season ahead of him, that’s for sure.

 

Scott Sio – 5.5

Played: 5 (0 starts)

Best performance: All Blacks I

As one of the most experienced front rowers in Australian rugby right now, there’s always going to be element of intrigue following Scott Sio – as to whether or not he can make that experience count. From what we saw from the 31-year-old this year, it seems like he could be in a real tussle to make the World Cup squad.

After picking up an injury during the second Test against England, Sio made his return to the Test arena against South Africa, but wouldn’t start a match during 2022. The veteran prop also sustained an injury against the All Blacks in Melbourne. Again, Sio is another player with plenty to prove next year.

 

Tom Robertson – 5

Played: 4 (0 starts)

Best performance: Italy

Robertson showed this year that he can be quite valuable to the Wallabies when called upon, as we saw during their end-of-season tour. While he didn’t start any Tests, Robertson was able to scrum relatively well and make his mark around the park.

 

Matt Gibbon – 4.5

Played: 5 (1 start)

Best performance: Italy

After coming off the bench in four Tests throughout the international season, Gibbon was given his first opportunity to start a match against Italy in Florence. But the Rebels prop failed to make an impact, making just four tackles and running the ball seven times. While that’s not the primary job for a prop by any means, it does mean something. As for the set-piece, Australia did hold their own in most of their scrums – but lost the ball on their own feed once.

 

Pone Fa’amausili – 4.5

Played: 3 (0 starts)

Best performance: Argentina II

Pone Fa’amausili has the potential to be just as great as Taniela Tupou in Test rugby. Both players appear to enjoy the contact and pride themselves on the physical side of the game, and that has made the Rebels prop one of the exciting front rowers to watch in Super Rugby for a couple of years now.

But Fa’amausili has somewhat struggled to step up to international rugby, and carry his form over from Super. He came off the bench in all three of his Wallabies appearances this year, and didn’t really make an impact.

 

Sam Talakai – N/A

Played: 1 (0 starts)

Best performance: Wales

Talakai was part of history. While he didn’t really get the chance to play many minutes, Talakai made his debut during Australia’s incredible comeback win over Wales.

While injures have been a problem for the Wallabies this season, they’ve also given players an opportunity to take that next step – Talakai, the onus is now on him to prove himself once again during Super Rugby next year.

 

Hooker

Folau Fainga’a – 6

Played: 13 (5 starts)

Best performance: Argentina I

The one-two punch that David Porecki and Folau Fainga’a have had going this season has the potential to work wonders for the Wallabies – but for the most part, it failed to fire this year. While Fainga’a is brilliant at the set-piece, and is a proven try-scorer at both international at Super Rugby levels, this year seemed to be a set backwards at times.

Australia’s lineout wasn’t as bad as what it was last year, but it still failed to deliver in some key moments. Fainga’a started the season with a series of pretty good performances, but was unable to maintain that for the rest of the year. Considering how close the Autumn Nations Series’ Tests were, Fainga’a will need to improve ahead of the World Cup – but he’s not the only one by any means.

 

Lachlan Lonergan – 6

Played: 4 (1 start)

Best performance: Wales

Lonergan had himself a game against Wales, and it was the perfect ending to the Test season for him ahead of what promises to be a massive Super Rugby campaign. After coming on to the field during the second half, the rising star was excellent at the set-piece for the men in gold. But the last three minutes is where he made his mark; scoring the match winning try inside two minutes, before later winning a turnover and kicking the ball out of play with Wales mere metres out from Australia’s try-line.

The Wallabies is quite young, and rugby fans need to be aware of that as this team builds towards the future under Dave Rennie. But players like Lonergan could be the heroes of tomorrow, or more specifically next year. If he has a strong campaign with the Brumbies, there’s no reason why he couldn’t potentially start or come off the bench in France next year.

 

David Porecki – 5.5

Played: 10 (8 starts)

Best performance: England I

Porecki started the most Tests out of any Australian hooker this season, and certainly appears to be the frontrunner for the No. 2 jersey ahead of next year’s World Cup. But as mentioned under Fainga’a name, the set-piece still has a way to go for the Wallabies.

 

Billy Pollard – N/A

Played: 1 (0 starts)

Best performance: Argentina II

Pollard came off the bench in one match this season, and didn’t really stand out. While anything could happen before next year’s World Cup, it seems like the Wallabies have their three primary hookers for the World Cup in Fainga’a, Lonergan and Porecki.

But at just 20-years-old, Pollard is definitely a player to watch for the future. He’s shown what he can do at Super Rugby level with the Brumbies, so Pollard is certainly a star in the making.

 

Lock

Matt Philip – 6.5

Played: 7 (6 starts)

Best performance: England II

Matt Philip is one of the hardest working players in Australian rugby, and for that reason he simply has to be selected whenever he’s fit and available. Philip started the first Test against England, before starring in the next two matches after Darcy Swain was ruled out through suspension.

 

Will Skelton – 6.5

Played: 3 (1 start)

Best performance: Italy

Skelton made his return to the Wallabies during their end-of-season tour, and he didn’t skip a beat. After coming off the bench during the thrilling loss to one of the World Cup favourites France, Skelton was phenomenal in his one and only start of the year against Italy.

Standing at six-foot-eight, Skelton was wreaking havoc for the Italian defence with hard running and offload ability. The 30-year-old made a couple of tidy busts through the heart of the opposing defence. Skelton has also proved his ability to defence quite well, and be an option at the set-piece for the men in gold.

 

Nick Frost – 6

Played: 9 (5 starts)

Nick Frost is another exciting prospect for the Wallabies, as they look to continue to grow their depth ahead of next year’s World Cup. The 23-year-old started five Test matches this year, including matches against Scotland and France, and certainly held his own in both.

 

Cadeyrn Neville – 5.5

Played: 7 (6 starts)

Best performance: Scotland

Cadeyrn Neville really cemented himself as one of the go-to options at the lineout for Australia this season, as he embodied his role as a general at the set-piece. The 34-year-old was a menace at the lineout for England, as he consistently put pressure on their throw. But his work rate around the park also has to be admired, as he continues to build towards the Cup.

 

Darcy Swain – 5.5

Played: 7 (4 starts)

Best performance: Argentina I

On his day, Darcy Swain is the best lock in Australian rugby right now. Not only can he defend and attack quite well, but the rising star is such a reliable option at the lineout – which is one of his core jobs.

But a major mark against his name this year, and against the Wallabies as a whole really, is poor discipline. Swain was red carded in the opening Test of the year against England, and was lucky to avoid the same fate against the All Blacks in Melbourne. The most confusing thing about those two instances, though, is he’s just not that type of player. If Australia were to make the knockout rounds of the World Cup, they need to know that their players can keep a calm head under pressure. Swain may have to prove that point during Super Rugby next year – but I imagine he’ll almost certainly be on the plane to France.

 

Rory Arnold – 5.5

Played: 3 (3 starts)

Best performance: South Africa I

Arnold was back in Wallaby gold for three consecutive Test matches this year. While his first Test of the year was Australia’s disastrous loss to Argentina in Mendoza, Arnold was able to perform quite well in the following two matches which were both against South Africa.

 

Jed Holloway – 5.5

Played: 3 (3 starts) *in the second row only

Best performance: France

Holloway made his mark this year at blindside flanker, and I imagine that’s where he’ll be playing for the foreseeable future, but he was able to perform quite well in the second row as well. Holloway played both matches against New Zealand in the No. 4 jersey, as well as the Test against international rugby juggernauts France.

Australia has plenty of depth in their backrow, and Pete Samu is certainly knocking at the door to make that No. 6 jersey his own. Should that be the case, Holloway has proven himself as a reliable option in the second row – so it could work out.

 

Ned Hanigan – N/A

Played: 2 (0 starts) *in the second row only

Best performance: Wales

Hanigan was another player who ran out in both the second row and back row for the men in gold this season, although he was primarily a flanker. When playing lock, Hanigan’s best performance came against Wales.

 

Full Ratings (to date)

Outside Backs

Tom Wright – 7.5

Marika Koroibete – 7.5

Mark Nawaqanitawase – 7

Andrew Kellaway – 6.5

Jordan Petaia – 6

Jock Campbell – 6

Reece Hodge – 5

Suliasi Vunivalu – N/A

Tom Banks – N/A

 

Midfield

Len Ikitau – 7

Samu Kerevi – 7

Hunter Paisami – 6.5

Lalakai Foketi – 6

Reece Hodge – 6

Irae Simone – N/A

 

Fly-halves

Noah Lolesio – 6.5

Bernard Foley – 6

James O’Connor – 5

Ben Donaldson – 5

Quade Cooper – N/A

 

Halfbacks

Nic White – 7.5

Tate McDermott – 6.75

Jake Gordon – 5.5

 

Loose Forwards

Rob Valetini – 7.5

Michael Hooper – 7

Pete Samu – 6.75

Jed Holloway – 6.5

Fraser McReight – 6.5

Rob Leota – 6

Langi Gleeson – 6

Harry Wilson – 5

Ned Hanigan – 5

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