Following the announcement of Eddie Jones’ 34-player Australia squad for their upcoming Bledisloe Cup Tests, we pick out the winners and losers.
Reds wing retained despite poor showing
Australia made a dreadful start to their Rugby Championship campaign as they suffered a humiliating 43-12 defeat to a second string South Africa outfit at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, with Wallabies wing Suliasi Vunivalu one of the players who struggled against the Springboks. Wallabies head coach Jones opted for Vunivalu over Mark Nawaqanitawase for the Rugby Championship opener and that decision backfired as the former rugby league flyer’s weaknesses were horribly exposed by the Springboks and his direct opponent, Kurt-Lee Arendse, crossed for a hat-trick of tries in that encounter.
Apart from struggling to keep Arendse in check, Vunivalu was also responsible for a penalty try for a deliberate knock down close to his try-line and he was also yellow carded for that offence. Therefore, it was not surprising when Nawaqanitawase came into the Wallabies’ run-on side for their next game against Argentina with Vunivalu demoted from the matchday squad. However, despite his horror show in Pretoria the 27-year-old retains his place in the squad and it will be interesting to see if Jones opts to use him against the All Blacks.
Exciting backline duo and rising back-row star called up
The Wallabies have received a shot in the arm as exciting utility back Jordan Petaia has recovered from a wrist injury which kept him on the sidelines during the latter stages of the Reds’ Super Rugby Pacific campaign. Joining him in earning a call-up to the Test side is the experienced Andrew Kellaway – who, like Petaia, can play at full-back, centre or wing – and promising Waratahs back-row Langi Gleeson.
All three players were named in the Wallabies’ first squad for a three-day training camp on Australia’s Gold Coast in April which means they will be expected to hit the ground running if called up to action. Petaia and Kellaway are both good with ball in hand and could add plenty to the Wallabies’ attack, while Gleeson possesses size, power and speed which makes him a handful to defences.
Inexperienced front-row duo retained
Central to the Wallabies’ poor start in the Rugby Championship is that they came off second best in the forward battle in those defeats to the Springboks and Los Pumas, especially in the tight exchanges and in the build-up to their clash with Argentina, Jones called up props Pone Fa’amausili of the Rebels and Blake Schoupp of the Brumbies.
Fa’amausili added to a handful of Wallabies caps by coming on as a replacement in the dying moments against Los Pumas while the uncapped Schoupp was not included in the matchday squad for that encounter. Despite their inexperience, Jones has retained their services and they will be hoping to see some action against the All Blacks to stake their claims ahead of the World Cup.
Tongan Thor returns
Despite a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, sustained in a Test against Ireland during last November’s Autumn Nations Series, Taniela Tupou, who is also known as the ‘Tongan Thor’, was named in the Wallabies’ initial Rugby Championship squad. However, he was soon shifted to the Australia ‘A’ side for their clash with Tonga where he got through 40 minutes of that encounter in Nuku’alofa on July 14.
💪 The power of a prop but the footwork and balance of a wing. ⚖️
🥳 Happy birthday to the superb Australia and Reds prop Taniela Tupou, who already has a rather lengthy highlights reel.pic.twitter.com/ra19NFYjUL
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) May 10, 2022
Although the Australia ‘A’ side suffered a 27-21 defeat in that fixture, Tupou obviously did enough to impress Jones as he is back in the Wallabies squad. While it’s been a tough recovery process for the 27-year-old, a fully fit Tupou is one of the best tighthead props in the game as his explosive power with ball in hand makes him a real handful for opposing defences while he is also solid in the execution of his core duties. Although he might not see lots of action in the Bledisloe Cup, Jones will be hoping to ease him in so that he is back to his best by the time the World Cup kicks off.
Experienced trio dropped
After those back-to-back defeats to the Boks and Los Pumas, it’s not surprising that Jones has dropped some players, with the experienced trio of Tom Wright (full-back), Reece Hodge (utility back) and Pete Samu all jettisoned from the squad. Wright’s departure was the most surprising as he played for a full 80 minutes in both the Wallabies’ previous Tests but he obviously did not do enough to impress Jones in those outings and now it looks like he could miss out on World Cup selection.
Meanwhile, Hodge started in the match against the Springboks but only lasted for 52 minutes before he was replaced by Samu Kerevi and he was subsequently left out of the matchday squad for the Argentina game. It’s a similar situation for Samu, whose services were also not required for that encounter in Sydney after he came on as replacement for Tom Hooper after 30 minutes in Pretoria.
Inexperienced trio dropped
Josh Kemeny (back-row) and Matt Gibbon (front-row) along with Reds prop Zane Nonggorr have all been dropped from the Wallabies squad after failing to impress Jones when coming off the replacements bench in the previous two Rugby Championship matches.
Gibbon and Nonggorr were given 15-minute cameos towards the end of the loss against the Springboks but were both left out of the Wallabies’ matchday squad for the clash with Los Pumas. Meanwhile, Kemeny came on to make his Test debut in the 66th minute against Argentina but he too is surplus to requirements at Test level.
Australia ‘A’ contingent
Judging from the squad which Jones has selected for the Bledisloe Cup, it looks like that defeat by the Australia ‘A’ side against Tonga earlier this month was a costly one for most of the players with Wallabies Test experience as apart from Tupou, no one else from that team, which was coached by Waratahs assistant coach Jason Gilmore, was called up to the Wallabies squad.
Included amongst that list of players are experienced internationals like Bernard Foley, James O’Connor, Folau Fainga’a, Ned Hanigan and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto as well as fellow Wallabies like Harry Wilson, Jock Campbell, Lachlan Swinton, Cadeyrn Neville, Lachlan Lonergan and Sam Talakai. With just their Bledisloe Cup matches and a warm-up game against hosts France ahead of the World Cup left to play, it looks like the aforementioned players have run out of time to impress Jones before he names his squad for the global showpiece.