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Dissecting Joe Schmidt’s surprising Wallabies selections

By John Ferguson
David Feliuai and Angus Blyth. Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images and Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Joe Schmidt has finally unveiled his first-ever Wallabies squad and it has not come without some surprises, but considering the circumstances most of them make sense.

21 forwards, 17 backs, and 12 uncapped players named along with Alex Hodgman who is a four Test All Black and could become just the fourth player ever to represent both Australia and New Zealand; these are Schmidt’s Wallabies for the July Tests.

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Schmidt has made it abundantly clear; people who are not committed to rugby in Australia will not be selected for the July Tests and he has kept his word.

The number of uncapped players announced is less shocking considering how many experienced players are heading overseas or rugby league, Schmidt has had to take a punt on the untested.

The 38 players have been announced along with seven players who are listed as ‘recovering from injury’ and Corey Toole who has been asked to help the mens’ Sevens team at the Paris Olympics.

Recovering from injury: Angus Bell, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Max Jorgensen, Rob Leota, Lachlan Lonergan, David Porecki, Blake Schoupp

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Australia Sevens: Corey Toole

Seemingly, these eight players would’ve been firmly in the selection mix had it not been for injury, making selections for Schmidt and his team even harder.

“The coaching group has looked hard at on-field performances and had ongoing discussions with Super Rugby coaches. We’ve combined the observations we’ve made, with some candid discussion and feel that we have some very good players to start working with, while also acknowledging that there are some good players who have missed selection,” Schmidt said.

“We have a short runway into our first Test, so we’re just keen to get to work and make as much progress as we can over the four days we have in Brisbane.”

Some of those “good players who have missed selection” appear to be the likes of Western Force-bound lock Darcy Swain and Brumby halfback Ryan Lonergan.

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While both players enjoyed solid seasons, it was not a year of consistency for the pair. While some have been left out, others have jumped into the Wallabies fray, seemingly without notice.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
26
29
First try wins
60%
Home team wins
60%

One of the biggest beneficiaries of injuries, and overseas exits is perhaps Queensland Reds’ lock Angus Blyth who has three starts and two bench appearances for a total of 230 minutes played in 2024.

At first glance it appears at odds with Schmidt’s mantra about being consistent but with Wallaby lock Izack Rodda departing for France, perhaps Schmidt sees good, mouldable raw qualities in Blyth.

There are not many locks in Australia who stand at 205cm, and the 26-year-old is coming into the right age bracket for a Test-level lock, so this selection may be more on potential than anything else.

Another player who can count themselves fortunate is Waratahs’ wrecking ball Langi Gleeson, who has had a mediocre season.

Gleeson’s potential is evident for all to see, his acceleration and bulk are unique in Australia but his ball-handling skills in 2024 have been dreadful.

A question mark also remains around the youngster’s fitness but that can always be improved, so for now, Gleeson appears to sneak in on promise.

The tight-five is where the Wallabies’ depth will be thinnest for this July window where they will face Wales and Georgia.

Lacking the most experience is the hooking stocks with all three having less than 10 caps amongst them.

Matt Faessler has the most caps and has been in good form all year for the Reds while his clubman Josh Nasser benefits from Melbourne Rebels’ and Wallaby rake Jordan Uelese deciding to head to France.

Nasser, as well as Billy Pollard, have both had good seasons with decent lineout and scrummaging performances, but there’s no hiding they are extremely inexperienced.

Rebels’ youngster Isaac Kailea has rocketed into the Wallabies squad out of nowhere, seemingly leapfrogging his Melbourne teammate and capped Wallaby Matt Gibbon, to secure a spot in Schmidt’s group.

Despite being very young for a Test-level loosehead prop, his strength in the scrum and in the carry has been impressive, but his raw bulk may have him well positioned to assist the securing of the Wallabies scrum.

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Fellow club young-gun Josh Canham however was not selected which left many people across the Australian rugby ecosystem scratching their head.

The young lock has many great qualities; size, athleticism, speed, vision and a little bit of mongrel about him.

Despite this promise, the 23-year-old is only just now finding his feet in Super Rugby Pacific, going head-to-head with Test-locks like Scott Barrett, Eben Etzebeth or Tommas Lavenini is a different ballgame altogether.

Another youngster which many fans would’ve loved to see in gold was the ‘Junkyard Dog’ Tim Ryan, but Schmidt tempered those calls, methodically explaining that Ryan was not ready yet for Test-match rugby.

“One of the things you’ve got to be just a little bit wary of is to be tempted by the excitement of a young kid who plays really well. And then the reality of a readiness to play at that level and the sort of players that he’s going to come up against,” Schmidt said.

While there was no shortage of bolters in the forwards, perhaps the one which stood out the most in the backline was Rebels’ centre David Feliuai, known as the ‘Romanian Rumbler’.

The omission of Lalakai Foketi saw the need to bring in a specialist inside centre in case injury struck the inform and apparent front runner; Hunter Paisami.

Feliuai’s physicality reportedly caught Schmidt’s eye and at 95kg, 185cm, with good acceleration, could act as a good foil for any of the young flyhalves.

Inexperience is rife throughout the squad and the crucial position of five-eighth is no exception.

The most experienced of the three selected playmakers is 24-year-old Noah Lolesio, who has 17 Wallabies caps to his name.

Ben Donaldson and Tom Lynagh, son of Wallaby great Michael Lynagh, are the other playmakers who have been picked alongside Test veteran and utility back Kurtley Beale.

Beale’s inclusion shocked many but after considering the roster’s inexperience, his inclusion is logical.

Wing is another position where uncapped players reigned supreme; Sevens flyer Darby Lancaster has snagged himself a spot as well as power winger Dylan Pietsch.

Schmidt has been impressed by Lancaster’s speed and defence and Pietsch is a very similar player who also runs great lines in attack.

Fixture
Internationals
Australia
25 - 16
Full-time
Wales
All Stats and Data

A final note goes to addressing the selection of Western Force’s captain Jeremy Williams and stalwart inside centre Hamish Stewart.

Williams has played predominantly lock for the Perth-based side, but at 195cm and 111kg, he is small for a Test lock, seeing how he fits into a gameday 23, and who he is competing with for a matchday spot will be fascinating.

Stewart’s reliability, maturity as well as impressive defensive numbers are hard to ignore, but a similar question haunts him; is he robust enough for the Test arena?

JOHN FERGUSON’S WALLABIES TEAM TO BEAT WALES ON JULY 6:

1. James Slipper
2. Matt Faessler
3. Allan Alaalatoa (C)
4. Ryan Smith*
5. Lukhan Salakai-Loto
6. Liam Wright
7. Fraser McReight
8. Rob Valetini
9. Jake Gordon
10. Noah Lolesio
11. Dylan Pietsch
12. Hunter Paisami
13. Len Ikitau
14. Andrew Kellaway
15. Tom Wright

Reserves

16. Josh Nasser*
17. Alex Hodgman**
18. Taniela Tupou
19. Nick Frost
20. Charlie Cale*
21. Tate McDermott
22. Hamish Stewart*
23. Ben Donaldson

*Denotes uncapped
**Denotes Wallabies uncapped

Four uncapped in the 23.
8 Queensland Reds
8 ACT Brumbies
3 Melbourne Rebels
2 Western Force
2 NSW Waratahs

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

5 Comments
N
Nick 17 days ago

Pretty close to my preferred team. I’d swap hodgman/slipper and smith/frost, white and tate as my 9s, and daugunu at 11 over peitsch. Slipper off the bench means tupou can help him out at the scrum and give you some needed experience off the bench for late in the game. Not sure who my bench backs would be but I think only one of donaldson/stewart would make it, both are utilities… This team is looking small, petaia, uru, leota, bell, bpa, holloway could all potentially come into the reckoning down the track to bring some added physicality. Curious to see what schmidt makes of a few guys like L wright, H stewart and R smith and how far he can lift them. Rennie rung the changes quite quickly after his first few games so don’t be surprised to see the same with schmidt. I am very curious to see the gameplan he brings and having beaten the wallabies alot he should know their weaknesses and potentially where their strengths also lie.

r
rory 18 days ago

John. No coach will ever select a team to lose. Makes no sense. Bok supporter.

j
john 18 days ago

There is nothing logical about Beale’s selection, or Blyths, or the omission of Uru. Or the selection of Donaldson. But Kiwi coaches never put Australia’s best team on the field for what should be obvious, to all but the blind, reasons.
We have seen this before with Deans and Rennie. It’s just the same old old old story.
“Kiwi coach cleverly cripples Wallabies chances“. Chapter 3.

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Tom 28 minutes ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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