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Wallabies player ratings: Clear first-choice halfback emerges during average year for halves

By Finn Morton
Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie talks to Tate McDermott of the Wallabies and Nic White of the Wallabies after winning The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the South African Springboks at Adelaide Oval on August 27, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/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, 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 – 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 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 from winning rugby’s greatest prize next year just yet.

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This week, RugbyPass will be rating the Wallabies players’ performances from the year that was. After starting the week with the outside backs and midfield, we’re now going to take a look at how the halves performed this year.

 

Halfbacks

Nic White – 7.5/10

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Played: 12 (10 starts)

Best performance: England III

The Wallabies would be a very different team without the poise, rugby smarts and skill of star halfback Nic White. While Australia is clearly blessed with a number of options at halfback, it’s fairly obvious now – certainly after this season – that White is the key going into a World Cup year.

White was the first choice halfback for 10 Tests this season, including highly anticipated blockbusters against England, New Zealand and Ireland. The 32-year-old was playing near his best for a majority of this season, as he kicked and passed to a truly elite standard.

While Tate McDermott is undoubtedly an exciting talent – and one that we’ll get into shortly – White’s experience in these big Test matches is simply invaluable, and that can’t be taught. With more than 50 international caps to his name, White understands the game better than any other halfback in Australian rugby right now.

Probably the best example of his rugby genius and talent came in the final play of the thrilling Test against Scotland. Flyhalf Blair Kinghorn had missed a penalty shot at goal, which saw the Australian’s awarded a 22-metre dropout. White showed both class and bravery as he drop kicked the ball out on the bounce to bring an end to the Test.

But generally if we look at his year as a whole, White was able to create attacking phases out of nothing using his sheer brilliance around the ruck. The 32-year-old also kicked quite well when called upon, and his leadership came a long way as well.

 

Tate McDermott – 6.75

Played: 6 (1 start)

Best performance: Scotland

McDermott is bound to have an extraordinary time in the gold jersey, as he continues to develop into the halfback that Australian rugby fans know he can be. The Sunshine Coast Grammar Old Boy only featured in six Tests this year, and had one start, but he well and truly made the most of his minutes when given the chance to shine.

While the 24-year-old can be a difference maker off the bench – having played a crucial role in Australia’s epic comeback over Wales last month – McDermott has shown what he can do when he starts from the opening whistle. McDermott was given the chance to start against Scotland and he certainly did the jersey justice. The star halfback made a 20+ metre burst inside the opening few minutes of that Test, and was generally lethal around the breakdown – causing headaches with his unpredictable style of play.

 

Jake Gordon – 5.5

Played: 10 (4 starts)

Best performance: England II

Gordon was given plenty of opportunities to play this season, but a somewhat poor spring tour may see him the finish the year as the Wallabies’ third-choice halfback – but that’s a matter of opinion.

Indiscipline hurt the Wallabies through a tough 2022, but it also cost the 29-year-old valuable minutes on the park. Gordon was yellow carded twice during Australia’s five match spring tour, including an incident during the historic loss to Italy.

But there’s clearly something about Jake Gordon that Dave Rennie and the selectors like, and for that reason it’s quite hard to say for sure that he’s the third choice halfback. Gordon has showcased his attacking flare in the past, and this year we saw him become a general as a playmaker.

 

Fly-halves

Noah Lolesio – 6.5

Played: 7 (6 starts)

Best performance: England I

As the rugby world shifts their focus towards next year’s World Cup, there are still some questions over the Australian halves combination that remain unanswered. While Noah Lolesio was highly touted coming out of High School on the Gold Coast, and played a starring role in Super Rugby AU with the Brumbies, he’s been able to really make that 10 jersey his own at Test level.

Lolesio has all the talent in the world, and his ceiling is quite high, but he still wasn’t given the keys to the Ferrari when injuries began to take their toll on the team. After staring the first three Tests of the year against England, Lolesio was left out of both matches against Argentina.

Despite the injury to Quade Cooper, the rising star only played two more Test matches this year (against Italy and off the bench against Wales) as Bernard Foley was called up to make his return o Wallabies gold.

Overall though, if we focus on what Lolesio achieved on the field, he showed some leadership traits and attacking skills that are simply beyond his years. Especially in the valiant win over Wales, the young pivot played a crucial role.

 

 

Bernard Foley – 6

Played: 5 (5 starts)

Best performance: All Blacks I

The Iceman made his return to Wallaby gold this year and, for the most part, he didn’t skip a beat. Foley donned the coveted gold jersey for the first time in years against the All Blacks in Melbourne, and so nearly helped lead the team towards a famous win.

While Foley simply had a shocker against the All Blacks the week after, he was relatively consistent in his other three Tests in 2022. Foley’s kicking – both in the field of play and off the tee – and as accurate as ever, and his rugby IQ is also off the charts.

 

James O’Connor – 5

Played: 3 (1 starts)

Best performance: Argentina I

Once heralded as a wonderkid of Australian rugby, James O’Connor appeared to find in the Wallabies matchday 23 upon his return to international rugby. But a disastrous showing against Argentina, where O’Connor was handed the chief playmaking reigns as the No. 10, saw ‘JOC’ dropped from the Wallabies – with Foley called up for the rest of The Rugby Championship.

It’s moments like this which can either make or break a play; potentially define a World Cup cycle for a player who was once labelled the next big thing in Australian rugby.

O’Connor has a massive season ahead of him with the Queensland Reds. He’s shown in the past that he can lead that team with character, skill and leadership – and that’s exactly what Dave Rennie would want from him I’m sure. There’s no doubt that O’Connor has the talent to play international rugby for the Wallabies, but the onus is now on him to earn the right to represent his nation once again.

 

Ben Donaldson – 5

Played: 2 (1 start)

Best performance: Wales

Test debuts just don’t get any tougher. As a kid, all goalkickers dream of winning a game with the last kick as the crowd, your teammates and the opposition watch on in both terror and hope. But unfortunately for Ben Donaldson, who made his Wallabies debut against Italy, he missed his chance to become a hero with a conversion after the siren in Florence. While he’s certainly not to blame for Australia’s disastrous result that day, it’s a moment that I’m sure he’d love to do over again if given the chance.

Donaldson was given another opportunity to shine in Wallaby gold though, having been named to start against Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. Again, it was another tough Test for the Waratahs playmaker, as the Welsh forward pack simply monstered their opponents. Donaldson couldn’t really get any front foot ball and make much happen.

With Quade Cooper in a race to be fit for the World Cup, and considering James O’Connor somewhat has a point to prove, Donaldson would probably still be considered an outside chance for the World Cup. But don’t believe in never. If he can perform well for the Waratahs next year, then who knows what will happen in 2023 for Ben Donaldson.

 

Quade Cooper – N/A

Played: 1 (1 start)

It was a tough year for Quade Cooper, who is now in a fit to be race for next year’s World Cup. Cooper was injured during the warmup before the first Test against injured, and sustained an Achilles rupture after returning to Test rugby later in the year.

Cooper made his Wallabies return against Argentina in The Rugby Championship, but was subbed off shortly after half-time. The 34-year-old was dancing across the field inside the Los Pumas 22, when he fell to the floor in pain.

We all know what Quade Cooper is capable of when he’s fit and healthy. Hopefully for the Wallabies, and for Cooper as well, he can made a speedy recovery in time for next year’s World Cup.

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

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