It’s a good thing Joe doesn’t talk in riddles but has a good selection plan

Carter Gordon goes, Jake Gordon grows,
But Joe Knows, it’s too soon,
Too soon for Noddy Junior, in the big shows
So Noah must steer the ark – or give Donaldson a few goes

One thing we do know of Joe Schmidt in his short time in the Wallabies coaching role is that he thankfully doesn’t talk in Dr Seus-like riddles.

So far Schmidt oozes respect, integrity, planning, strategy and playing the odds.

Having lived in the land of the long white cloud for a few years, your scribe recognises these qualities as deeply ingrained in the psyche of not only the All Blacks but New Zealanders in general.

Aussie Joe won’t be modelling his style on recent Australian coaches, Dave Rennie excluded.

It’s hard to see Schmidt giving too many heated rants or making bets on enigmatic, wild card players or suddenly throwing out the best, in a punt on the rest.

He also won’t be letting on too much about his plans. What is not to like?

At the selection table, there is a definite flavour and a formula. While the coach isn’t shouting it from the rooftops, a few trends stand out:

1. Leaders

Joe is not only going for a strong “No DH” policy, he is going for leaders and thinking footballers, with new selections Liam Wright, Jeremy Williams and Jake Gordon all provincial skippers.

Also, World Cup squad members James Slipper and finishers Allan Ala’atoa and Tate McDermott all have captained the Wallabies – and at Super Rugby level.

Even young rookies such as Josh Flook and Billy Pollard are known for being keen students of the game and leaders in aged group pathways.

Tom Wright of the Wallabies makes a break. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

2. Redemption stories

What is old is new again.

If the subject has gone away and strengthened their weaknesses they getting another crack at Test rugby such as Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Hunter Paisami and Tom Wright.

Harry Wilson may find himself receiving a re-call in time.

3. Complete footballers

Joe’s style is structured and disciplined and requires a high work rate, discipline and low error rate and hence a balance of skills for each individual.

Andrew Kellaway, Wright, Filipo Daugunu all play several positions and therefore have the most skills.

Their ability to cover several jerseys allowed Joe to select Tom Lynagh and Dylan Pietsch for much-needed exposure on the bench and leave Ben Donaldson out.

The all-round games of hooker Pollard and prop Isaac Kailea shows why they could be handy back rowers in another life and Charlie Cale who could double as a centre, or a basketballer.

Players with some very strong parts to their game but some question marks in other areas may therefore struggle for selection in the Schmidt tenure.

Time will tell, but this may include the likes of Seru Uru, Jordan Uelese, Suliasi Vunivalu, Lachie Swinton, Corey Toole, or Jordan Petaia.

Mark Nawaqanitawase whilst heading to rugby league, may have not been favoured by Schmidt over the reliability and rugby smarts of a Kelleway type.

4. The Les Kiss link

There are plenty of references to suggest the two coaches have similar approaches, forged when coaching Ireland to victory in the Six Nations.

I am sure Liam Wright’s captaincy is not a coincidence as a strong season under Les has the Queenslanders already finishing Joe’s sentences.

Les Kiss

Queensland Reds coach Les Kiss. (Photo by Brendan Hertel, QRU)

5. No Noddy or Bernie is perhaps normal

Now this wouldn’t be an Australian rugby article without discussing the crucial number 10 jersey.

Wallabies fans were spoilt in times gone by, with Michael ‘Noddy” Lynagh and Stephen “Bernie” Larkham, each having a decade in the role.

Whilst there was a handy vintage of Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Matt To’omua and utilities such as Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, there hasn’t been a flyhalf emerge and own the jersey in recent years.

It’s a hot topic, with noted scribe, Paul Cully of the SMH, somewhat bravely, coming out in the defence of Lolesio this week.

With a short run-up, the first test is always a little clunky with Lolesio having only one Brumbies teammate in the backline, Tom Wright.

With Carter Gordon heading to rugby league, Joe knows he must persevere with Lolesio and/or Donaldson whilst blooding Lynagh over a couple of seasons.

How smart was it for Lynagh to debut in an all-Queensland 9-10-12-13 combination? Same men, different shirts. Perfect.

Queensland looks to have the next most likely contenders in Lawson Creighton and Harry McLaughlin Phillips, closely followed by Waratah and another son of a gun, Jack Bowen.

I think Tane Edmed and Will Harrison will head for the journeyman status already occupied by Jack Debreczeni.

The latter was notably picked to start for the Brumbies ahead of Lolesio, as recently as the 2023 Super Rugby semi-final.

The selector was Stephen Larkham, a man who should know, but that all seems like ancient history now.

6. Kicking the cover off it

Modern rugby has forgotten its roots, playing eight reserves. Yes, more than half a team of fresh reserves and absurdly letting this evolve to a seven-one split of forwards to backs.

This, combined with plenty of water breaks and no attrition and you soon have a contest of who has the best weightlifters.

The slick defensive structures and deadly goal kickers, who can make you pay from anywhere in your own half and teams are left with the only option of kicking the skin off it.

Schmidt will continue to take the heat off Lolesio, by expanding the playmaking and general play-kicking games of halfback Gordon and inside centre Paisami.

Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

As Andrew Logan pointed out in his recent article on The Roar, Joe has to go with what he’s got.

While Logan was critical of Paisami’s kicking game, it has been very effective at the Reds this Super Rugby season.

Also on The Roar, in Editor Tony Harper’s article, Matt Toomua called out the box kicking from half-back as “un -Australian”, but that horse seems to have bolted.

In other evolutions, the modern defensive patterns, focussing on line speed and the man with the ball, are up and in, regularly leaving the winger unmarked as opposed to the traditional drift defence or man-on-man, inside the 22-metre area, the winger staying on his winger at all costs.

This change in defensive patterns is not a new thing and must be recognised as saving a lot of tries because it lets in at least one try per game to an unmarked winger.

Hence the cross-field kick looks to be very much part of the game plan.

7. Time

Expect Schmidt to slowly nurture Lynagh, along with other young prospects like Tim Ryan. We have been here before.

Those of you sufficiently long in the tooth will recall the ill-fated debut of 20-year-old Pat Howard, son of a Wallaby prop, Jake Howard and grandson of Wallaby centre, Cyril Towers.

While Howard went on to play 20 tests for the Wallabies some years later and was eventually European Player of the Year in 2001, he was far from ready to play the All Blacks down at Carisbrook, Dunedin, the House of Pain, on 17 July 1993.

Lynagh may start against Georgia but hopefully, we won’t see him against the big boys in the Tri Nations.

Schmidt may elect to bring Donaldson back into the fold by then, providing cover for flyhalf and fullback on the bench.

In wider viewing, what a great game rugby is. When you can watch tests, or at least the more palatable mini versions there-of, from all over the planet.

Head coach Joe Schmidt during a Wallabies training session at Ballymore Stadium on June 25, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Head coach Joe Schmidt. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Sparing oneself from water breaks, scrum resets and box kicks is good for your well-being.

It’s notable that the number 1 team in the world and reigning World Cup champions, South Africa, have no less than 13 of their starting XV over the age of 30, with a couple of 28-year-olds making up the numbers and a combined 990 Test caps between them.

Not so long ago, in 2022, Dave Rennie’s men beat a very similar South African team at the Adelaide Oval and twice before that in 2021.

Rennie’s record in the ensuing Spring Tour looks almost enviable now, as the Wallabies defeated Scotland 16-15 before three narrow losses to France 29-30, Italy 27-28 (resting many leading players) and then Ireland 10-13 before defeating Wales 39-34.

Not bad for a team facing five Tests in five weeks.

With good men at the coaching and administration helm, let us sit down in the ark and grab an oar, rather than rocking the boat.

Leave a Reply

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