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What Ardie Savea expects from Wallabies’ new-look backrow

By Finn Morton
Tom Hooper during the Australian Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on June 29, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

When Australia named their team to take on Argentina a fortnight ago, coach Eddie Jones spoke time and time again about what it means to play “the Wallaby way.”

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Coach Jones has some high hopes for this team, but at least so far, the Wallabies have failed to hit the mark. Australia have started their new era under Jones with back-to-back losses.

Since that press conference in the Northern Beaches of Sydney – those two weeks have since come and gone – Jones has had plenty of time to think and what hasn’t worked, and what might click moving forward.

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The Wallabies coach swung the axe through the team that lost to Los Pumas, having made a staggering seven changes to the starting side ahead of the Bledisloe Cup opener on Saturday.

Some selections came as a welcomed surprise. Jones’ decision to select rising star Carter Gordon in the halves alongside Tate McDermott shows the Aussies want to play an attacking game.

But amongst all the changes, the most surprising pick was Tom Hooper at openside flanker.

In the absence of usual co-captain Michael Hooper – no relation to Tom – coach Jones overlooked Queenslander Fraser McReight, and decided to go with a bigger body at No. 7.

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Hooper had a tough debut in Wallaby gold earlier this month in South Africa – the 21-year-old left the field at Loftus Versfeld after 30 minutes with an injury.

But the rising star will be out to make amends. Hooper was named alongside Jed Holloway and Rob Valetini in the Wallabies’ backrow.

All Blacks captain Ardie Savea has been bested by young Hooper in the past, and is preparing for a tough battle with the formidable Australian trio.

“I obviously lost to the uso in the quarter-finals playing for the Canes,” Savea told reporters. “They’ve got a great loose trio with Rob (Valetini) and (Jed Holloway).

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“The way they play, they want to be physical, straight up.

“They’ve got a great, young, exciting team so that’s gonna put us on our toes.”

The All Blacks take on the Wallabies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday evening in the first of two Bledisloe Cup Test matches.

New Zealand have held the prestigious trophy for more than 20 years, and while there is plenty of chatter about the upcoming World Cup, the All Blacks are just taking it “week by week.”

“It’s always important to look at the bigger picture,” Savea added. “In terms of what we want to achieve long term.

“But obviously you break it down and for us it’s week by week, and that’s the mantra we’ve been going for.

“This week is another great, big challenge for us, especially in Melbourne at the G, against an Aussie team that’s hurting. It’s going to be an interesting one but it’s going to be good.”

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Shaylen 6 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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