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Wallabies power rankings: The Aussies in the mix to play under Joe Schmidt

By John Ferguson
Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies celebrates with try-scorer Fraser McReight uring 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 Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

For the players striving to pull on the Wallaby gold in 2024, they must impress the third Wallaby coach in as many years, and this time it’s Joe Schmidt. 

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The pragmatic Kiwi has not name-dropped players like his predecessor, but he has given some clues as to what he is looking for. 

“You don’t jump into decisions around players in a short-term window… I like to take a longer-term view and have a decent opportunity to have a look at players,” Schmidt told reporters at the launch of the British and Irish Lions Tour tickets in Sydney last week. 

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“What we need to be able to demonstrate is that we can be really consistent,” Schmidt said. 

Work rate, consistency and technical proficiency are the three big pillars which Schmidt has thus far outlined. 

In terms of overseas selections, Schmidt hasn’t ruled them out, but because he is leaning towards picking Australian based players if it were to be a coin toss, no OS players will be listed. 

“What I would say is that players who are playing in Australia will be a priority for us. If that is supplemented by a few players playing overseas, then that may well be the case,” Schmidt said. 

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Schmidt will take career form into account but has said 2024 is a “clean slate” for players to press their claims. 

So, without further ado, here are the top three players in each position who are currently ticking Schmidt’s checklist. 

Loose-head prop: Angus Bell, James Slipper, Alex Hodgman 

Player to watch: Matt Gibbon 

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Bell’s ball running and physicality are the best of any Australia LHP, and they are skills which are now being complimented by a steadily improving scrummaging game. 

James Slipper is the old bull who is ever reliable, and the dark horse is newly eligible Alex Hodgman. The 31-year-old former All Black is adding experience and an impressive all-round game into the mix. 

Hooker: Matt Faessler, Dave Porecki, Lachlan Lonergan 

Player to watch: Billy Pollard 

Faessler has quickly emerged as Australia’s premier hooker. His lineout throws are true, his work rate is excellent, and he has the brains and brawn to mix it at test level. 

Porecki retains a high standing despite not featuring yet this season due to injury, due to his elite lineout throwing and work ethic. 

The two Brumby boys having impressed early in the season. 

Jordan Uelese’s struggle to nail his lineout throws keeps him out of the frontrunner’s group. 

Tighthead prop: Allan Alaalatoa, Sam Talakai, Zane Nonggorr 

Player to watch: Taniela Tupou 

Despite not having played any rugby for the last eight months, Alaalatoa’s experience and form before his horrific Achilles injury in the July Bledisloe sees him as the premier tighthead in the country. 

Talakai is the experienced campaigner while Nonggorr is the young bull, both are impressing with high work rates and mostly dominant scrummaging records. 

Tupou’s wait-and-watch status is because he is not stringing together big minutes. 

Nevertheless, when fit and firing Tupou is one of the best tightheads in the world and should he find his groove and fitness levels, he’ll shoot up to pole position. 

Loosehead lock: Nick Frost, Ryan Smith, Darcy Swain 

Player to watch: Josh Canham 

Traditionally there has been a distinction between the two locking positions with the loosehead lock (no.4) usually being a rangier player who is an adept lineout operator. 

Frost leads the competition for lineout takes and has played almost every second of SRP 2024. His work rate plus his frame of 2.05m and 120kgs give him the right ingredients for test match footy. 

Then there’s the toiler in Smith who’s work rate is immense but it remains to be seen if his 1.97m will be enough at test level. 

Tighthead lock: Lukhan Salakai-Loto, Cadyrn Neville, Izack Rodda 

Player to watch: Miles Amatasero 

The tighthead lock is the bigger of the pair, who carries hard, gets his team over the gain line and provides the grunt at scrum time. 

Salakai-Loto’s form in 2024 has been patchy but is bringing some edge to his big ball carrying as well as sitting third overall in the SRP competition for lineout takes. 

Rodda is yet to play in 2024 due to injury, but his size of 2.02m and 123kgs has him as the only real test match sized tighthead lock. 

Should he find form and stay injury free upon his return he may well climb the rankings. 

Blindside flanker: Liam Wright, Ned Hannigan, Tom Hooper 

Player to watch: Rob Leota 

At test level the no.6 is needed to be a good lineout option as well as a brawler who gets through the dirty work at breakdown time. 

Wright is second for lineout wins in the SRP competition and has one of the best numbers for attacking rucks attended. He has bulked up since he earned his last Wallaby cap in 2020. 

Hannigan is showing similar workhorse qualities as well as one of the highest dominant carries figures in the comp. 

Openside flanker: Fraser McReight, Carlo Tizzano, Charlie Gamble, 

Player to watch: Luke Reimer 

Based just on form in 2024 there is not much splitting the top three. 

McReight leads the attacking and turnover stats and Tizzano is the busiest defender. 

McReight is the incumbent and goes into this list as the favourite, but Gamble is showing some aggression and steel not seen in recent seasons. 

Whoever has the biggest impact against Kiwi opposition throughout the season may reveal who has what it takes at test level. 

Number 8: Rob Valetini, Harry Wilson, Langi Gleeson 

Player to watch: Will Harris 

As last year’s John Eales Medallist Valetini retains his spot on-top. 

His ability to consistently dent the line with his ball in-hand has him in the lead. 

Despite playing his part excellently in the Reds’ systems, Wilson must show he possesses defensive starch and the ability to hit a high number of rucks if he is to be considered alongside Valetini. 

If Gleeson improves his ball handling skills, he’ll be in with a chance. 

Halfback: Nic White, Ryan Lonergan, Tate McDermott 

Player to watch: Teddy Wilson 

The Western Force look a better side with White on the field, his game management and service are elite, hence he retains his spot as the incumbent. 

Lonergan’s core skills are among the best in Australia and the fact he can goal kick may be the deciding factor, depending on which flyhalf peaks Schmidt’s interest. 

McDermott is unmatched in the running game, but his passing is not on the same level as the other two. 

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
1
Draws
0
Wins
4
Average Points scored
19
24
First try wins
20%
Home team wins
60%

Flyhalf: Noah Lolesio, Ben Dondaldson, Carter Gordon, 

Player to watch: Tane Edmed 

Flyhalf is the most hotly debated position in Australian rugby, and for good reason. 

All candidates are younger than 25 and each has a unique skillset. 

Lolesio is the most experienced with 17 Wallabies games under his belt. His goal-kicking numbers are the best of the bunch at 83 per cent and has iced games at test level before from the tee. 

Similarly, he and Donaldson have shown the best in-play kicking, with Donaldson’s running game impressing. 

Gordon’s passing game is a cut above the rest while Edmed’s toughness and flat-at-the-line attack means he warrants discussion. 

Inside centres: Hunter Paisami, Lalakai Foketi, Hamish Stewart 

Player to watch: Joey Walton 

Paisami is the clear frontrunner, with his physicality unmatched by his peers, running over backrowers with ball-in-hand and belting players of any position backwards in defence. 

Foketi needs minutes after his horror neck injury while Stewart is showing a rich vein of form. 

Outside centre: Len Ikitau, Izaia Perese, Josh Flook 

Player to watch: Filipo Daugunu 

Despite having a slow start Ikitau’s sound stats and great career form means he just pips Flook.  

However, Flook is killing it: averaging just under a metre more per carry, triple the line breaks and 10 per cent higher defence percentage than Ikitau and Perese.  

Perese’s lethality and power in attack is unrivalled and keeps him in the race. 

Wing: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Corey Toole, Dylan Peitsch, Jordan Petaia, Andy Muirhead, Mac Grealy 

Player to watch: Suliasi Vunivalu 

Although there has classically been a distinction between the left (no.11) and right (no.14) wingers, their rolls in the modern game are practically the same. 

But for discussion’s sake they will be listed as possible pairings. 

Nawaqanitawase’s power matched with Toole’s raw speed would make for a lethal combo. 

Peitsch and Petaia would equally cause opponents headaches, posing as a more robust duo. 

Muirhead and Grealy are toilers who will always play for the benefit of the team. 

Fullback: Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Max Jorgensen 

Player to watch: Jock Campbell 

Kellaway is the clear front runner with 25 defenders beaten, almost three more than the others as well as the most line breaks and least turnovers. Those stats only make clear his keen understanding of when to inject himself into the line for maximum impact. 

Although he is only 19, it’s clear for all to see, Jorgensen’s athleticism and raw talent is a cut above the rest, the only thing Schmidt must consider is how to best manage Jorgo’s workload. 

Wright’s success in Wallaby gold may depend on his ability to tone down the mercurial and awaken the Zen required at test level. 

Total top three club count 

ACT Brumbies: 13 

Queensland Reds: 11 

NSW Waratahs: 9 

Western Force: 5 

Melbourne Rebels: 4 

Total 42 

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5 Comments
h
h 112 days ago

harry potter is set in stone. he creates stability and finishes well. exactly what schmidt likes. he’s the ben smith of australian rugby.
i think it could quite easily be potter toole and kellaway for the foreseeable future.

v
victor 112 days ago

I wouldn’t spend the time on Nawaqanitawase! No point in having him filling in a jersey when he’s committed to leave Union. Give the jersey to a young prospect who will be here in the future.

m
mitch 112 days ago

There’s a bit of depth there but realistically Australian players have a long way to go to now catch up. The game is moving on fast and Australia are falling behind. Australian sides still don’t priories the breakdown like they should, it’s a non-negotiable if you want to compete on the international stage. That goes for forwards and backs. The Australian team could have a back row that could make a difference but the problem is they don’t have a tight five that can do the business. Tupou is limited in defence, overweight and unfit and the locks are a long way from international standard. Frost is soft and Salakai-Loto is too small so that means they need a Valentini at 8 who has to do the hard graft so limits the effectiveness of the backrow. Schmidt really needs to get a hard working, tough tight 5 if he wants to get this team firing.

j
john 113 days ago

Not a bad list but not Porecki and not Donaldson. Not because they are Tahs, or Ex Tahs, they are just not good enough. Edmed should be ahead. Far more potential.

Wilson should be 8 and Valentini 6. Wilson needs to be told by his father and his coach, stop bloody running in to brick wall defence. You’re not playing under the genius Thorn any more. He’s a fantastic angle runner.

The young new 8 from the Brumbies looks really good too.

The Lonegrans are just too small for international rugby as is Paisami, as is Hamish Stewart at 12. Both great at Super Rugby level. Stewart could have been a great 10 if not for Brad Thorn.

Uru should be there and so should Tupou. Tupou just needs good Australian coaching which he hasn’t been getting. I don’t think Schmidt will excite him.

R
Rohan 113 days ago

Ryan Coxon has been very impressive considering he was signed by WF as injury cover whilst Uru has been a standout for QR, surprised neither of those mentioned

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Jon 5 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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