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Why Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt named 13 uncapped players in first squad

By Finn Morton
Darby Lancaster of the Rebels scores a try during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and Highlanders at AAMI Park, on April 13, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images) (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Joe Schmidt has explained the decision to select 13 uncapped players in the first Wallabies squad of the year by revealing the coaches weren’t concerned about the number of Test caps a player had as they focused on the potential “we see in them.”

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With this being the first squad in Schmidt’s time in charge of the Australia men’s national team, there was always going to be a sense of intrigue surrounding the group. Fans weren’t left disappointed, either, when the 38-man squad was announced.

Veteran Kurtley Beale joins the likes of Len Ikitau, Harry Wilson and Liam Wright in returning to the Wallabies squad for the first time in a while. Former All Black Alex Hodgman was also selected along with another 12 potential debutants.

Seven uncapped forwards and six backs were selected, with that baker’s dozen including the likes of the Brumbies’ Charlie Cale, former Australia sevens star Darby Lancaster and Western Force captain Jeremy Williams.

While the decision to name so much inexperience in the squad may have come as a bit of a surprise to some, coach Schmidt has doubled down on the selections ahead of two Tests against Wales and a clash with Georgia in Sydney.

“The coaches when we were discussing it, we didn’t really talk about whether they were capped or not or how many caps they might have had. It was really just about what potential do we see in them and how soon can we get started with them,” Schmidt told Michael Atkinson on Stan Sport.

“If we see them having potential, people may not see that after a four day camp and one week to prepare before Wales and that’s part of the investment we want to make in some of these players is to give them a bit of a springboard to really put their hand up for what’s coming through the rest of the year and obviously, leading into the British and Irish Lions.”

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Throughout almost the entire Super Rugby Pacific season, one youngster who generated plenty of Wallaby buzz was ACT Brumbies backrower Charlie Cale. At just 23 years of age, Cale started all of 10 appearances for the Australian powerhouse at No. 8.

Cale stared the season in red-hot form with a headline-grabbing double against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park. The loose forward scored another three tries throughout the season but was most impressive with some elite work around the park.

“He’s a super talent athlete. Obviously, a couple of tries down the wing where he was really fleet of foot. His speed to jump, his lineout defence has been a real strength as well,” Schmidt explained.

“He’s growing into the game. I think, there’s been a couple of times where they’ve played really big, physical teams in Super Rugby and maybe that’s an arena where he’s still got some work to do.

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“But we really like the way that he’s shaping up.”

In the backs, David Feliuai, Josh Flook, Tom Lynagh, Dylan Pietsch and Hamish Stewart were selected along with former sevens star Darby Lancaster. Lancaster really announced himself to the world at the Vancouver Sevens last year before signing with Melbourne.

Lancaster played for the Junior Wallabies at the 2023 World Rugby U20 Championship in South Africa before debuting in Super Rugby Pacific with the Rebels this season. The winger scored a try in his maiden start against the Waratahs in round six.

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The Australian rugby public really began to talk Lancaster up as a potential Wallabies potential in round eight when the No. 11 stole the show with a hat-trick in a statement win over the visiting Highlanders. It was a special performance by a try-scoring talent with speed to burn.

“He’s another one, like Charlie,” he added

“You can coach speed but only marginally, so to have that natural speed that Darby has got is great. He’s a real competitor. I see him working out the back of the field and people wouldn’t even see it but off the ball he’s working really hard.

“In the contest area, post tackle, he’s got on the ball a couple of times. There’s a few instincts in him that we really like.”

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

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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