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FEATURE Will forgotten Wallabies fit the Joe Schmidt model?

Will forgotten Wallabies fit the Joe Schmidt model?
3 months ago

It’s been a rollercoaster existence for Australian rugby fans over the past year, with the sugar hit of the second coming of Eddie Jones forgotten under the weight of sobering results and mind-boggling selections, followed by a forgettable Rugby World Cup, Jones’ sacking, and now, the welcome arrival of Joe Schmidt.

Australian players have lived that experience too – both those selected by Jones for the showpiece tournament in France, and those left behind for reasons of varying sensibilities – but they will benefit from Schmidt wiping the selection slate clean. And a lot of them are already building strong cases to be chosen.

Joe Schmidt
Joe Schmidt helped New Zealand reach the Rugby World Cup final having enjoyed huge success with Ireland (Photo Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images)

Already, we know what Schmidt values in an international rugby team. We know he puts a high price on accuracy and efficiency, with the ball and without it. Do the little things well, do them better than the opposition, and do them for eighty-plus minutes. Pick your targets, hit your marks, and do it all in a way which enhances team performance.

The appointment of Laurie Fisher as his first assistant means Schmidt has found his Australian equivalent of a kindred coaching spirit. The pair will look for players who, aside from the set-piece, carry well, are efficient in contact, present the ball well, clean accurately, and then do it all again.

Until they were completely outplayed by the Weston Force in Perth last Saturday, the Queensland Reds back-row had been arguably the form combination in Super Rugby Pacific. The argument might be they still are, even if they did lose a few credits.

Hanigan is playing exactly the sort of game Australian fans wanted him to years ago, when he was thrust into international rugby before he was physically ready.

But there is very little debate the Reds 6-7-8 trio of Liam Wright, Fraser McReight, and Harry Wilson are absolutely ticking all the Schmidt-Fisher boxes. They are reminiscent of the circa-2015 Wallabies pack, when Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, and David Pocock operated so well as a unit.

Wright, McReight, and Wilson play really similarly, with the strong tackler, the rabid on-baller, and the possessed carrier who seems to make ground for fun.

McReight will be one of the first Wallabies picked in 2024, and Wilson has already built an impressive case after five rounds. But Wright could be the bolter here.

In truth, his 2024 form is not too dissimilar to the last few seasons, but he’s rarely mentioned in discussion around national term selections. The Reds’ start to the year, and the strength of this back-row combination Schmidt could build a game around, could easily rocket all three into the frame.

Elsewhere, it’s been really hard not to be impressed with the NSW Waratahs pair Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan.

Jed Holloway has been one half of a destructive second-row pairing for the Waratahs this season (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Holloway has started the year in strong carrying form, and his cleaning work around the ruck has been eye-catching too. Since moving to lock from the back-row a few years ago, he’s become an outstanding lineout operator as well.

Hanigan has been in quite incredible form, underlined by his 17 tackles in 28 minutes off the bench against the Crusaders, the second-highest tackle count in the game. He’s playing exactly the sort of game Australian fans wanted him to years ago, when he was thrust into international rugby before he was physically ready.

If accuracy and consistency are going to be important for scrum-halves, then Schmidt and Fisher could do a lot worse than take a look at stand-in Brumbies skipper Ryan Lonergan, and rising Waratah Teddy Wilson.

Len Ikitau’s omission from the Wallabies World Cup squad was one of the worst decisions made last season, and he has started 2023 in strong form, a welcome reminder of what has been missed.

Lonergan is bettered probably only by Nic White among the Australian nines in pass accuracy and speed, and he was part of Australian squads throughout 2023 up until Jones changed his mind a few days before departing for France. Lonergan’s pass is still one of the best in Australia, and his goalkicking adds an intriguing element to his game, too.

Wilson is quickly gaining fans for his work off the NSW bench this season, with the 2023 Junior Wallabies captain providing spark and impact when he comes on for Waratahs skipper Jake Gordon. On form and potential, his selection wouldn’t be the worst idea.

Len Ikitau’s omission from the Wallabies World Cup squad was one of the worst decisions made last season, and he has started 2023 in strong form, a welcome reminder of what has been missed. But a knee injury will keep him out of action for the next month or so, and the big beneficiary there might not be Leicester-bound Izaia Perese, but impressive Queensland 13 Josh Flook.

A door to international rugby could open for Reds centre Josh Flook after his consistent performances (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Flook’s defence in recent weeks has been terrific, but his straight-running and strong carrying in the Reds midfield has been a huge factor in Queensland leading the competition for tries scored. He should be in the frame.

Whatever conversations are had in the coming months, it will be fascinating to see which Australians really do fit the Schmidt model. But how players build their individual business cases will be critical to the Wallabies crafting a platform for future success. That’s something all Australian rugby fans are waiting for.


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Trevor 118 days ago

Thanks Brett.. At last a positive article on the potential of Wallaby candidates, great to read.

Schmidt’s record as an international rugby coach speaks for itself, I’m somewhat confident he will turn the Wallaby’s fortunes around …. on the field. It will be up to others to steady the ship off the paddock.

But is there a flaw in my optimism? We have known all along that Australia has the players to be very competitive with their international rivals. We know that because everyone keeps telling us. So why the poor results? A question that requires a definitive answer before the turn around can occur.

Joe Schmidt signed on for 2 years, time to encompass the Lions tour of 2025. By all accounts he puts family first and that’s fair enough, but I would wager that his 2 year contract will be extended if the next 18 months or so shows the statement “Australia has the players” proves to be correct.

The new coach does not have a lot of time to meld together an outfit that will be competitive in the Rugby Championship - it will be interesting to see what happens. It will be interesting to see what happens with Giteau law, the new Wallaby coach has already verbalised that he would to prefer to select from those who play their rugby in Australia.

His first test in charge is in July just over 3 months away .. not a long time. I for one wish him well .. heaven knows Australia needs some positive vibes.

Ric 119 days ago

Excellent words… finally someone (other than DC) has noted that Hanigan is very hard and very good at doing what Backrow should do… his performance via the Drua sauna was quite daunting for those on the other side… very high tackle count… carries with good end result… constant threat to make a good 20-25 meters with those long legs… providing his mass effectively to crunching the Drua pack…

Finally he is returning to quality form… way to much injury time over the last 2 years…
smart-strong-competent in his skills… caught every lineout throw aimed at him and delivered clean pass to whoever was down below… and he worked hard for the whole 80 minutes…

Ned has to be in the top 5 for backrow honors… He knows what is required as he has been there before…

RobC 119 days ago

Thanks BeeMc. The pieces looking good. Wondering how long the rebuild is going to take. I hope the expectations are set correctly by RARA this time around

Matthew 119 days ago

As a Pom, i say Australia is a sleeping giant when it comes to international Rugby. Its rather a matter of when and not if they things start ro click into place and they start being one of the best teams in the world again.
The hiring of Joe Schmidt could be the reason things start to go right esp if hd is allowed to do things his way and have an involvement of how grass roots Rugby in Aus goes.
The apeal to play in the golden jersey along with a decent pay is there. Top league players are showing interest and there is some goid young players coming through. They just need to give JS time like the RFU are doing with Steve Borthwick. things seem to going in the right direction for England, certainly compared to the last few years

Mitch 119 days ago

In good news Brett, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that Max Jorgensen has signed a two year contract with Rugby Australia.

Shaylen 120 days ago

Theres lots of talent in Australian rugby at the moment and its exciting because everyone is talking about young players and their prospects in international rugby. Everyone is curious to see how the rebuild will go and who will be selected. What is clear is that the wallabies team selected will need time and will need to build experience and combinations as that is something all these young players lack. The incoming tour of Wales will be perfect in that respect however Schmidt will need at least 15 tests to find his best combos and get them used to his system. The B&I Lions matches will be enormous but these youngsters should not be judged on it. It will be a true acid test of the state of Australian Rugby. If AR is to get the best out of Schmidt they need to give him at least 45 to 50 tests regardless of results and the next world cup so that he can build these youngsters up. They have to invest in him long term and he needs to invest in them. That is the only way they will get back to the top of the game.

Bill 120 days ago

Hey Brett very provocative piece here. Our friends from over the northern border will be pi$$ed that you failed to put their poster boy in the 9 jersey but I do agree with your choices. For me Tate’s passing leaves a lot to be desired.

The Reds back row may make the squad but I think only Fraser makes the side. Bobby V needs to be there, which leaves 1 spot for Liam W, Harry W, Josh K, Hannigan, Swinton, Holloway

Next 5 rounds will be interesting to say the least


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