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FEATURE Why Miles Amatosero can be the Wallabies' next Will Skelton

Why Miles Amatosero can be the Wallabies' next Will Skelton
6 months ago

In the end, it wasn’t even fair. When all the blustering in the media stopped and the wave of new optimism petered out, the World Cup Wallabies went down with all hands to the only top-tier European team it had to beat. Eddie Jones’ Australia were routed 40-6 by Warren Gatland’s Wales, and the Wallabies never even fired a shot.

The Wales side which Gatland had assembled was far from overwhelming compared to some of its predecessors, and it was drawn from much the same dysfunctional background as its opponents. The four Welsh franchises are as unsuccessful in their primary competitions as the Australian five. You have to roll back ten years, all the way to the 2014 New South Wales Waratahs to find Australia’s last Super Rugby triumph. Likewise, the Scarlets’ success in 2017 was the sole Welsh victory recorded over the same period in the URC or Pro 12/14.

That is too long for two such proud rugby nations, and an outgoing Jones was quite right to point the finger at 20 years of systemic decline in the Australian game. The game rots from the head down, and both nations urgently need more success in the professional tier to reawaken public interest in rugby and give it a louder megaphone in a crowded sports market.

One major barometer of that success will be Australia’s ability to attract players from overseas, and particularly from Europe. Those will either be

  1. Quality imports from other nations
  2. Mature Australians returning home with a wider range of IP
  3. Youngsters who have developed their games abroad and improve in a shorter timeframe than they would have been able to at home.

In this article written back in April, I examined how an influx of talent from English Premiership clubs had supported the Western Force in 2023. Those players included Zack Kibirige and Sam Spink, both plucked from the rubble of the collapse of Wasps and Worcester, and Saracens loanee Gareth Simpson. Along with Crusaders cast-off Manasa Mataele, Kibirige was one of the stars of the show on attack for the Force in Super Rugby Pacific 2023.

Such talents can be ‘naturalised’ via residency, or maybe by the more generous qualification rules in World Rugby regulations 8.6-8.8, which now permit a player to switch allegiance to a second country when their parentage or grand-parentage allows it.

Australian rugby is in no fit state to be picky, but none of the enormous haemorrhaging of English Premiership talent represented by the collapse of the Worcester, Wasps, London Irish and even second-tier champions Jersey Reds has washed up on Australian shores.

Despite the success of Simpson, Spink, Kibirige and Jordan Olowofela at the Force, only two Englishmen have been attracted by the song sheet Australia is currently singing: Exeter scrum-half Jack Maunder [to the Rebels], and Saracens squad prop Hayden Thompson-Stringer [to the Tahs, by way of the Top 14].

The addition of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto from the Northampton Saints [to Melbourne] and Fergus Lee-Warner from Bath [to the Waratahs] will certainly help in category [2]. Both enhanced their reputations solidly during their time in England.

It is the third group which is the most intriguing. The young man upon whose shoulders so much hope for the future is heaped is Miles Amatosero, a 21-year-old giant – 6 feet 8 inches tall, and tipping the scales at 125 kilos. Amatosero is an important player, not just for his size and athletic talent, but for the career path he represents for fledgling Australian players.

Australia passed on Emmanuel Meafou, the other youthful Top 14 colossus who will [inevitably] now represent Les Bleus in the 2024 Six Nations. Meafou had a established his profile in Australian rugby with the NSW Country Eagles and Darren Coleman-coached Warringah, but none of the Super Rugby franchises were willing or able to offer him a contract.

“Near the end of the NRC I had some talk with the Waratahs, but it was also part-time, just coming in for a couple of training sessions. I ended up going in for a physical and just never heard back,” he said.

Meafou joined the Stade Toulousain academy at the tender age of 20 and has never looked back. “My goal was always to play for the Wallabies” has morphed into “I am very proud to be French but I am proud to be from Toulouse too.” He will be a very good international player.

Amatosero represents Australia’s shot at redemption, at reversing the direction of travel. Amatosero signed up for the ASM Clermont academy as a teenager and has been plying his trade in the Auvergne since 2020-21, playing in 27 games in the Top 14 and four more in the European Champions Cup. There is no better Sunday school for tight forwards than the French league and Amatosero has now been a part of it for four seasons.

Like Meafou he has been primed for success, and his home-grown education included matches as part of an NSW Schoolboys team which also featured Langi Gleeson and Joseph Sua’alii, both of whom may have something to say about Australia’s rugby future on the field.

Waratahs head coach Coleman picks up the story.

“When I was in France recently, I went to a few clubs and a couple of them commented, ‘You got that Amatosero? We were looking at him’. I think he was sought after by French clubs because of his [physical] dimensions and being JIFF [non-foreign] qualified.

“The word [future] Wallaby gets thrown around but he is quite humble and he knows he has work ahead of him. They are different styles of rugby – French rugby and Super Rugby. There will be aspects of the open-field game he will need to catch up, but as far as raw tools, he has everything. And the best part is that he is really aggressive, he is a real scrapper.

“He’s a kid who played Top 14 at 18 [years old], and he was throwing his body around. I feel he is going to be good for us, and it is something I have been searching for, trying to find a big specialist tighthead lock. He is a Sydney boy and he is Aussie qualified, so it was a no-brainer.”

Amatosero may also grow into the second coming of Will Skelton in a new generation. Skelton left Australian shores as an unfulfilled talent but returned to Wallaby colours as a complete tight forward thanks to his experience with Saracens in England and La Rochelle in France.

With Amatosero, the Waratahs at last have what they have been lacking with their other second-rows Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair and Ned Hanigan: a dedicated tight-head lock who has no thoughts of being a ‘tweener’, running between the middle and back rows.

He has been nursed along at Clermont in 2023-24 by the presence of ex-Queensland and NSW bulwark Rob Simmons alongside him. Simmons ran the most successful lineout in the English Premiership with London Irish, and now he is at the top of the same tree in France, with Clermont operating at a very healthy 92% win rate at set-piece and Simmons topping the lineout pilfer charts with five after the first seven rounds of competition.

So, what does Amatosero have to offer? At present he is both raw and raw-boned, with ample scope to add muscle to his frame and bring more focus to his mental preparation. For a tight-head lock, he probably possesses above-average lineout ability, resembling a young Brodie Retallick.

 

The combination of natural spring and a big wingspan bodes well for the future. There is however a lot more work to do at scrum-time, where Amatosero struggles to maintain a linear relationship with the prop in front of him and apply his power consistently.

 

In both cases Amatosero’s backside is protruding well above the level of the other Clermont forwards, which means that any movement in the set-piece which result in instability.

The issue of mental discipline and maintaining concentration at key moments of the game surfaced in a variety of scenarios during the round seven match versus Toulon.

 

 


In the first clip, Amatosero relaxes at the first breakdown after Clermont had scored a try, and is promptly bouldered off the head of the ruck and back into his scrum-half as he prepares to launch an exit kick.

In the second example, the Clermont lineout drive on the young Aussie is moving ahead nicely when Amatosero unaccountably decides to rip the shirt off one opponent’s back, then take himself out of the centre of the maul in order to wrestle another Toulonnais forward to the deck.

That rawness and lack of mature judgement also extended to defence of the lineout drive.

 

Amatosero looks like he is going to back-lift for Simmons at the front, but then decides to jump himself. That action rules both of Clermont’s primary maul defenders out of the game and leaves Toulon with a temporary five-on-two only five metres from the goal-line.

There is however plenty of athletic talent to work with, and plenty of time in which to fashion the finished product. Amatosero has already shown strength on the carry and a nose for the on the pilfer at defensive breakdowns.

 

 

The second example flashes a glimpse of Skelton-like ability to reach over the first low cleanout support at the ruck and lock on to the ball without losing balance and falling ‘off-feet’.

One of the messages for Australian rugby in the trough of a post-World Cup depression, with both the erstwhile chairman of Rugby Australia and the head coach of the Wallabies having disappeared over the horizon, must be: ’recruit, recruit, recruit’.

Recruit overseas imports from Europe and test them for qualification-by-residency; recruit mature, established Australians who have been perfecting their craft abroad; recruit dual-qualified nationals who may want, and deserve, a second chance such as Tawera Kerr-Barlow – once as All Black as they come, but now eligible for the green-and-gold; claw back young Australians who may have been targeted for naturalisation elsewhere.

It is an arms-race for top-drawer talent across the globe and Australia has at least, to turn up at the start gate in order to win it. It may have just taken the first step by retaining the services Amatosero and prising him from the Midas-like grip of the Top 14.

If he develops as expected, he will fill a big hole in the Waratahs’ pack. By 2027, who knows, he may even be filling Skelton’s size 19 shoes at the next World Cup.

Comments

55 Comments
A
Andrew 194 days ago

What? Another overweight lumbering tub?

j
john 194 days ago

For the Tahs to succeed, they need to drop their attitude of entitlement. It could be a long long wait for their supporters.

How Porecki thought it was Ok to give away a penalty for not rolling away in the first few minutes near the welsh line in a crunch match in a World Cup, when he had just been appointed Wallaby captain, still flabbergasts me. It reminded me of Bernard Foley thinking he could just screw the ref Raynal round all game against the All Blacks earlier, which cost us the game.

Coleman is also dealing with his brother being up on a murder charge following a fight on the north coast. Such family issues can distract coaches.

J
Jon 195 days ago

Will be interesting to see him line up this year. Looks more like a third jumper, would love to see him play 8. Who do the Tahs have at openside next year? I’d think Gleeson has the athleticism for that role, would help round out his game too maybe. Loved the playstyle of Gamble though, hope he can take another step up next year. Would make a dynamic back three. Might suit the Wallabies better too as they already have so many gigantic locks.

A
Adrian 196 days ago

Thanks Nick
100% correct I think.
LIke the grassroots players, the lower level, Shute Shield and SR level coaches, the IP in Australia has been completely hollowed out. This has all happened since professional Rugby started here. Not because of professionalism itself, but because of decisions taken at the top. Somehow they misread a super classy bunch of 90s, to early 0s players as being indicative of our system, rather than just luck. Every 30 years or so, Australia has luckily landed itself some talent.

The hubris here was nauseating. We began to imagine that WE were the real deal, and NZ our little brother. In the background things were falling apart, and now it’s gone.

Up and coming players will find much more to learn from in NZ and Europe. They’ll learn from older players in Japan, but not here

d
d 196 days ago

Thanks Nick. I have wondered why we don't see many English or Euro players here and j assumed it's because the pay is less? Those english players at the force have been great. Comparing the NSW and Qld squads - the tahs have a better squad unless Les Loss can weave some magic?

c
cs 196 days ago

Tahs have a ton of potential next season.

M
Mitch 197 days ago

Hopefully the chinks in his armour are still there when the Reds play the Waratahs.

O
Otagoman II 197 days ago

Looking forward to seeing Amatosero in Super Rugby. I’m hoping for the Highlanders that young Fabian Holland can stay injury free and start dominating (I want more aggression out of him) and showing his potential. Holland is 2.04 m tall and around 120 kgs.

A
Ardy 197 days ago

He looks like a good prospect and I look forward to seeing him play for the Tahs. I hope the press doesn’t do a Lachie Swinton on him if he does something stupid. The game is tough and we need guys who can stand up - without getting sent off.

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