Skip to content

Eddie went for bravado and brawn, Schmidt has brought brains back to the Wallabies table


Where Eddie Jones went for bravado and brawn, Joe Schmidt has brought brains back to Australian rugby.

Everything Jones said and did last year was one big roll of the dice.

He gambled at the World Cup, going all in on youth and a gut feel and paid the price.

“Possession rugby is dead,” he declared.

He may have had a point (just look at the Springboks’ World Cup win), but kicking away the ball aimlessly and selecting giants who don’t have rugby instincts wasn’t the answer either.

Schmidt might have named seven debutants in his matchday 23 – the most since the Wallabies played Fiji in Suva 44 years ago – but there is logic, reason and balance to his first matchday squad.

His initial 38-man squad might have exposed Australian rugby’s depth but his maiden matchday 23 has enough quality and experience in it to beat a struggling Welsh side.

Joe Schmidt has brought brains back to the Wallabies selection table. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for ARU)

Warren Gatland’s squad is a shell of the one that walloped the Wallabies 40-6 last September to confide the two-time World Cup champions to Australian rugby’s darkest day.

Seven straight defeats, six of which have come this year following a host of retirements and overseas moves, are the proof.

Only fullback Liam Williams remains from the backline that split the Wallabies backline in half from the outset in what proved to be the first of several daggers into Jones’ heart.

Midfielder Nick Tompkins will provide some experience from the bench, but they have lost proven performers in George North, Dan Biggar and Gareth Davies.

Nor can Gatland call on speedsters Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit.

Up front, where the games are generally won and lost, Tomas Fracis, Will Rowlands, Jac Morgan and Taulupe Faletai, the magnificent British and Irish Lion, won’t take the field either.

If ever there was a time to take on Wales, this is it.

Even the bookies have Gatland’s men as $5 outsiders.

Remarkable given the bloodbath in Lyon just nine months ago.

Wallabies head coach Joe Schmidt and assistant Laurie Fischer look on during a Wallabies training session in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Schmidt made it harder in the short term by looking past several players heading overseas or to the NRL, as well as deciding against calling up overseas stars like Marika Koroibete, but he’s picked on form not reputation in naming his first Wallabies side.

At least he’s picked a coaching team with proven rugby intellect instead of an eclectic group of sporting individuals who were ultimately exposed on the world’s biggest stage.

He’s also ensured balance and combinations are at the heart of his selection; Taniela Tupou and his long-time mentor James Slipper; Jeremy Williams’ footwork and skill with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto’s power; Hunter Paisami’s partnership with Josh Flook and Filipo Daugunu; the experience of Allan Alaalatoa alongside rookie Isaac Kailea; and Tate McDermott’s combination with debutant Tom Lynagh.

That was at the heart of Schmidt’s selection.

“Experience is never going to be a solution in itself,” the New Zealander said.

“But it can contribute to a little bit of confidence and certainty around you’re just doing your role, and then making sure that the player slots in as seamlessly as possible. I guess it’s probably difficult sometimes externally to comprehend.

“But for me, they’re just seven players. 

“The fact that they haven’t worn a Wallaby jersey before this, is relevant. But it’s not going to be pivotal or tip the equilibrium in selection.

“We just felt that we had a balance.

“A young guy like Charlie Cale, he had a little bit of an injury coming out of the end of Super Rugby. So it was good for us to build him in and slot him in behind someone like Rob Valetini and Liam. And Fraser with his good experience. 

“He’ll slot in there somewhere in the second half and bring that athleticism that he’s got to it.

“As I said with Tate and Tom, I think the leadership at the back end of the game.

“Having someone like Allan Alaalatoa, particularly when you’ve got someone like Isaac Kailea. Isaac, he is a debutant. Having him there and Billy’s [Pollard] only had one game.

“Allan’s a perfect guy. He’s played with Billy and he’ll be able to keep Isaac on track. And give him some confidence that he’s in a Wallaby front row when he does come on.”

Liam Wright’s selection at blindside flanker is reward after years of toil in the background.

Having first been invited into Wallabies camp as a teenager before playing a game of Super Rugby by Michael Cheika, the 26-year-old has always been highly regarded and respected.

He won’t whack his opponents like Samipeni Finau, but he’s improved his ball-carrying and his lineout and work at the breakdown should ensure the Wallabies get some clean ball.

Wright’s leadership can’t be underestimated either, with the Wallabies desperately needing a different edge.

Could Wright be it?

Several surgeries later and years of life experience could be the tonic needed to inspire those around him.

Those north of the Tweed won’t agree, but Jake Gordon was the best halfback in Australia this year.

Jake Gordon will wear the No.9 jersey after another strong year for the Waratahs. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for ARU)

McDermott was up and down, Nic White was solid but not spectacular, Ryan Louwrens doesn’t qualify, and Ryan Lonergan inconsistent.

Gordon, meanwhile, enjoyed one of his best seasons despite being overplayed, but the anti-NSW brigade will only see the Waratahs’ bottom-place finish on the Super Rugby standings as a reason why he shouldn’t be selected.

And those saying he shouldn’t be rewarded with a Wallabies jersey because he wanted out of Super Rugby please. Spare us.

Noah Lolesio, too, was an astute selection after a much-improved year where amongst other things, the Brumby’s goal-kicking stood out.

Schmidt hasn’t rolled out the best Wallabies team ever.

But it doesn’t need to be either. Not yet anyway.

All it needs is to win on Saturday and take a step forward.

If they do, confidence will return. Not just within the Wallabies group but the Australian public.

For a nation left bitterly disappointed time and time again, that’s important. Especially with vital broadcast negotiations around the corner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *