Let’s restart this whole shebang off with a bang: the first Wallabies 23 of 2023.
Starters: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Tom Hooper, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper (c)
Finishers: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Carter Gordon
The biggest and best news is Quade Cooper being fit in July, available and ahead of all other contenders for 10. I’ll be watching my favourite player with equal measures of excitement and fear (i.e. of another serious injury).
Even before the team announcement, James Slipper was reported as having been injured at training and Blake Schoupp was derricked onto a plane. If Slipper starts, Matt Gibbon should expect a long shift.
Making his debut at 6 is Tom Hooper, and with Michael Hooper selected at 7, G&GR dubs the combination, um, the Atomic Dooper? Post your better suggestions below.
Also making their debuts, but via the bench, are Richie Arnold, Zane Nonggorr and Carter Gordon. Richie’s late-career first cap is a feather in his cap, while Gordon has a great opportunity to show what’s got and what he can do with it. It’s a cheap shot to make fun of a bloke’s name, but ‘Zane Nonggorr!!’ has always struck me as something Conan the Barbarian would bellow as he split an enemy’s skull with his broadsword.
It seems to me that Reece Hodge is the substitute and Samu Kerevi the real inside centre, but Eddie has sensibly scheduled Samu for a second-half role. I mean no disrespect to Hodge; he’s an ace utility and potential match-winner, and his name would be the first I would pencil in for any Wallabies 23.
Jones has picked a few favourites, and in so doing has posed a couple of questions that will be answered publicly. First, is Suliasi Vunivalu actually a test-grade rugby wing, good enough to meet and beat the established Mark Nawaqanitawase standard? Second, is Michael Hooper still physically competitive? His endurance is probably excellent and he’s still quick, but he’ll be playing in tight among a dozen much bigger and stronger humans; perhaps he just won’t make an impression in the collisions and contests over the ball. But whatever answer emerges this weekend, I expect Hooper will be Jones’s first-choice 7 throughout The Rugby Championship and the World Cup.
Squad members who could and probably should feel a bit aggrieved this weekend include Nawaqanitawase, Lalakai Foketi and Jed Holloway. There will be injuries, boys, so keep your chins up.
If you can see any other questions that are about to get publicly answered, or need to sound off about Vunivalu, or just want to wang on about anything Wallabies, cut loose in the comments. And check back here tomorrow for the G&GR TRC2023 preview.
Here’s a quick round-up of recruitment facts and rumours. You won’t find this stuff in your LinkedIn feed.
Former Wallaby, Brumby and Rebel Joe Powell has reached safe harbour at Leicester Tigers, after swimming clear of the sinking wreck of London Irish. The Tigers had been looking for a spare halfback to cover for Ben Youngs and Jack van Poortvliet during the World Cup. In possibly related news, Dan McKellar took over as Leicester’s head coach this week.
Ex-Reds and Queensland Country loose forward Caleb Timu has signed on at Clermont, after spending a year at Bordeaux Bègles. For the rest of 2023 he’ll train alongside the very large lock Miles Amatosero, who will be at the Waratahs in 2024. Caleb’s professional development in Australia was one of Brad Thorn’s coaching successes.
Tana Umaga may soon be announced as Moana Pasifika’s 2024 coach (some sources are reporting his appointment as official). He doesn’t look like an upgrade on Aaron Mauger. You might recall that in Umaga’s last head coaching stint, he steered the Auckland Blues to the bottom of Super Rugby with the best piledriver seen since his job on Brian O’Driscoll. Perhaps, like the aforementioned Thorn, he’s not quite bright enough to coach a professional franchise. He’ll also be an assistant to Manu Samoa’s head coach Seilala Mapusua for the World Cup. Ia manuia!
And in another Thorn-adjacent development, there is talk of Les Kiss (another ex-London Irish refugee) talking to the Reds. That’s exciting.
Finally, the Other Site (that’s the old Other Site, not the new, Other Other Site) reported yesterday that Noah Lolesio is about to sign a short-term contract with Toulon. That probably means he’ll be onboarded for the Top Quatorze 2023-24 season that starts around the same time as the World Cup. Let’s hope Noah gets to enjoy a couple of World Cup matches with a beer in his hand.
Thanks for turning up see the Green & Gold Rugby blog relaunched. We were never going to let this grand old barge implode in a World Cup year. Go the Wallabies!
Article courtesy of JusWal. Welcome back to the top of the line, mate!