Ed-scratcher – Jones picks an ‘unknown’ Wallabies unit in attempt to make history at Loftus
Wallaby coach Eddie Jones has selected four uncapped players to face the Springboks at Loftus.
If most of this Australian line-up to meet the Springboks at Loftus walked past you in the street, you’d be hard pressed to know who they were.
Coach Eddie Jones, presiding over his first Test in charge since being appointed as Wallabies mentor for a second stint earlier this year, is backing youth, sprinkled with some experience.
But it’s a side that to anyone but the most avid of rugby analysts is mostly a mystery.
The uncapped quartet of starting flank Tom Hooper (no relation to co-captain Michael Hooper) and substitutes Zane Nonggorr (prop), Richie Arnold (lock) and flyhalf Carter Gordon, are almost unknown here.
Since the collapse of Super Rugby in early 2020, goings-on in Australian rugby have become increasingly alien to South Africans. Our attention has moved north, where the top local sides play, which is one of the negative aspects of leaving the southern hemisphere tournament.
But it’s more than that. Australian rugby, since its heyday in the 1990s to early 2010s, has lost some of its lustre. World-class players were the norm for so long that a Wallabies who’s who of players between 1991 and 2015 would include some of the best ever to play the game.
Beyond flank Michael Hooper, prop James Slipper and wing Marika Koroibete it’s hard to imagine anyone in the current side making the discussion for a greatest pro-era Wallaby side.
Nothing to lose
On the other side of the ledger, this Wallaby team has nothing to lose. They are a new blend of old and new, under a respected coach who has a proven track record of success.
The language coming from camp Wallaby all week has been about “making history” by becoming the first Australian team to beat the Boks in a Test at Loftus. Say it enough and you start believing it.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Eddie Jones back in SA and on a mission to create history at Loftus with the Wallabies
Better Wallaby sides have lost to worse Bok sides at Loftus, but they are understandably sticking to their mantra even if it’s not an easy place to win.
“As a squad, the players have worked extremely hard since coming together as a group and we have prepared well this week,” Jones said.
“The 23 players selected have an opportunity to be part of history with a win over South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday night.”
Veteran flyhalf Quade Cooper will earn his 77th cap where Nic White will partner him at halfback. White is the pantomime villain after his embarrassing gamesmanship against the Boks, but behind the theatrics and questionable facial hair is a very canny player.
Co-captain Slipper has been named to start but he has to come through a fitness Test on Thursday because of a knee injury.
As cover, giant Brumbies prop Blake Schoupp joined the team on Wednesday and is on standby to come into the squad if Slipper fails his fitness Test.
The selection of Reece Hodge at inside centre is an intriguing call, especially as the powerful and destructive Samu Kerevi is on the bench.
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Hodge has a massive boot and it’s an indication that the Wallabies have a very specific kicking game planned, while Kerevi, who has only just recovered from a hamstring strain, will add power and attacking threat later in the game.
Former rugby league star Suliasi Vunivalu, who has one Test cap, has been selected to start on the wing. He is powerful, quick and skilful but still inexperienced in rugby union and is likely to face an aerial barrage from the Boks. But like most Aussies he is also good in the air, which is such a vital skill in modern rugby.
“I’ve seen him develop some really good habits in Super Rugby and when he’s come in and trained with us for the last two or three weeks, every session he’s got a bit better,” Jones said.
“He’s an exceptional player, strong in the air; big guy with good pace. I’ve got no doubt he’s going to do a good job for us on Saturday.”
Surprisingly for Jones, who enjoys a little pre-Test verbal jousting, he declined an opportunity to get stuck into the Boks over their split-squad strategy.
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A group of 14 Springbok players left for New Zealand to prepare to face the All Blacks on 15 July, meaning the side to face the Wallabies is missing some key players.
“We’re really only worried about ourselves, we’re focused very much on ourselves,” Jones said with unusual cliché.
“We’re a new team, we want to play our style of rugby, and we know whatever team that runs out at Pretoria on Saturday is going to play with the pride of South Africa behind them and we need to meet that challenge.” DM
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Reserves: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Deon Fourie, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Damian Willemse.
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 (co-captain), 6 Tom Hooper; 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Frost; 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper (co-captain)
Reserves: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Carter Gordon