Following the announcement of the Wallabies lineup to face the All Blacks this weekend in the final round of the Rugby Championship we have selected our winners and losers from the matchday 23.
Head coach Eddie Jones has made some bold decisions for the first Bledisloe Cup Test by picking a more inexperienced side with several changes to try to pull a result out of the hat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The obvious winner from the team selection is Carter Gordon, who earns his first Test start this weekend at fly-half. The young star has been electric in his first two outings at the highest level, and whilst inexperience counts against him, he is still easily the form playmaker in the squad.
With Jones wanting to play a more instinctual game model, he has also brought in Tate McDermott, who is probably the most livewire of all the scrum-halves in the squad. His tempo and attacking nature could complement Gordon this weekend.
This half-back pairing will add a lot of dynamism and could well bring the outside backs into play more effectively.
🇦🇺 The only positive to come out of the weekend for the Wallabies was the cameo from debutant Carter Gordon, who scored this fine try.pic.twitter.com/bjNNVmmAHU
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) July 10, 2023
Possibly some of the most bold calls Jones made for this week is to throw two players returning from injury straight into the mix. The first to look at is Jordan Petaia coming into 13. There is no doubting the overall quality of the player, who is relatively experienced at Test level, but he has not played rugby since May.
The injury to the incumbent Len Ikitau kind of forced the coach’s hand in this one, but Petaia is the kind of player to get up to speed quickly.
The second player thrown into the starting XV is Andrew Kellaway, who starts at full-back. In this case, Jones is running out of options that he trusts at 15 after ruthlessly axing Tom Wright from the squad.
Like Petaia, Kellaway is an experienced player but has been sidelined for a while now. It is a tough ask to get up to speed at Test level against the All Blacks, but Jones has taken the risk.
The front-row is a big winner this week as he starts ahead of co-captain James Slipper after impressing late on against Argentina. Bell has long been touted as a great Wallabies loosehead in the making but has had some injury disruptions in his Test career thus far.
However, Jones has handed him the golden opportunity to hold off Slipper for the starting spot. It is the ideal situation for Bell to gain the trust of his coach with a big performance. He will be absolutely eager to get going at the MCG.
Chances in the forward pack
Jones is clearly looking for his best pack and has made changes each time around the spine of the pack that, includes stand-in captain Allan Alaalatoa, second-row Will Skelton and loose forward Rob Valetini.
This time round Tom Hooper gets another shot after being bullied by the Springboks in his Test debut in round one. It was a tough start to life at the highest level, but he still has the makings of a quality player, and Jones clearly sees that in him.
Duo Jed Holloway and Nick Frost get a chance in the starting lineup on the blindside flank and second-row, respectively. The pair will add significantly at line-out time whilst contributing heavily to work rate.
The competition in the pack is fierce, but Jones is looking for someone to stake a claim for the jersey.
Both co-captains have failed to make the starting lineup for various reasons forcing Jones to lean on the extended leadership group for an on-field captain.
Michael Hooper is out injured still, and his influence will be sorely missed both on the game itself and his teammates. The veteran is the most-capped Wallabies captain and commands the game at his best, Jones will be hoping he is back next week.
It is a more concerning outlook for Slipper, who falls behind Bell this week. It may just be an experiment, but if the younger prop fires to Jones’ standard, then the coach will not hesitate to back him over one of the team’s leaders.
Scrum-half and fly-half are two very influential decision-making positions in rugby, and it is clear that early on Jones earmarked Nic White and Quade Cooper to be his go-to players in these roles regardless of form due to their experience at Test level.
That fixed or premeditated plan from Jones has not gone according to plan. White has been decent enough; he is a quality scrum-half and definitely is the most comprehensively skilled in his position, but he possibly lacks a bit of the instinctual x-factor his coach is searching for. The veteran will still play a big role in the Wallabies set-up this year.
For Cooper, it is slightly different as the flair-filled star is only just returning from a long injury lay off, and to be expected to thrive straight away at Test level is a big ask even for his talent.
Put simply, he does need time in the saddle, but for the Wallabies, time is extremely limited, almost to the point where prioritising Cooper over Gordon’s development could be the greater risk.
Injuries are part of the game and whilst they close some doors they open others and Perese would have thought that was the case when Ikitau was confirmed to be out for an extended period. However, that door was slammed shut as Jones preferred Petaia to the Waratah who starts from the bench in Melbourne.
It is a bit harsh on a player who had a decent enough Super Rugby Pacific season; he is intelligent in defence and has a proper leg drive in contact. Petaia may offer other attributes, but coming in straight from injury could be risky, as Jones has already learnt through Cooper.
There is clearly something the coach is not sure about yet with Perese, but he may still get the opportunity to prove the Wallabies boss wrong with a late cameo against the old foe.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 28, 2023
One of the victims of Jones searching for his best forward pack, the Reds star can probably count himself unlucky. Throughout his Test career, he has never really had an extended run, whether it’s waiting behind veteran Hooper or injury or now a coach searching for balance.
There is no denying his quality nor his work rate. He is impressive and may well get his chance, but for now, the ruthless nature of the Wallabies camp means he will be watching from the stands.