Let’s get one thing clear first: this article is about how Darren Coleman might select the 2023 Waratahs squad, not about how the Waratahs will win Super Rugby Pacific before a whistle is blown.
There are a few names I will omit from the discussion because they are development players and will see very little game time unless there is an injury crisis. Those players are Zane Marolt, Zac Von Appen, Teddy Wilson, Jack Bowen, Ben Dowling and Max Jorgensen.
Likewise there are players who are likely to have to endure mandatory ‘rest’ periods due to RA policy. Those players are likely to be Angus Bell, Dave Porecki, Jed Holloway, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Jake Gordon, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese and Mark Nawaqanitawase. These possible mandatory omissions will have to be managed throughout the SRP campaign by Coleman but will also give other squad members an opportunity for game time.
props: Angus Bell, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Te Tera Faulkner, Tom Lambert, Archer Holz, Tiaan Taukipulu
Hookers: David Porecki, Mahe Vailanu, Tolu Latu
locks: Jed Holloway, Ned Hanigan, Zane Marolt, Taleni Seu, Zac Von Appen
Back row: Lachlan Swinton, Hugh Sinclair, Michael Hooper, Charlie Gamble, Will Harris, Langi Gleeson
Halfbacks: Jake Gordon, Harrison Goddard, Teddy Wilson
Flyhalves: Tane Edmed, Ben Donaldson, Jack Bowen, Will Harrison
Centres: Joey Walton, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mosese Tuipulotu
Outside backs: Mark Nawaqanitawase, Dylan Pietsch, Nemani Nadolo, Kurtley Beale, Ben Dowling, Max Jorgensen
Beginning with the props. Bell, Faulkner and Lambert are all loosehead props, with only Bell being sizeable. Both Faulkner and Lambert weigh between 110 and 115 kilos and both are on the shorter side. HJH, Holz and Taukipulu are all similar in size and height but weigh between 115 and 120 kilograms.
These blokes will not be the biggest props in SRP but will be quite mobile with good work rates. I would not expect too many tighthead scrum wins, but they should be able to win their own ball via Channel 1 all the time.
The hookers will be interesting to watch. Porecki will obviously be the starter most of the time. All three are pretty accurate with their throwing, and both Vailanu and Latu are good scrummers. What remains to be seen is how good Vailanu’s fitness is, how many minutes can he play and in what realm Latu’s head is – has he fixed his off-field issues and his discipline? Trial form will answer a few questions here.
The locks are the easiest to pick. Holloway, Hanigan and Seu will be the first-choice locks. They will not be the heaviest combination for scrums, but the lineout should operate very well. All are good lineout operators, with both Jed and Ned good callers.
Now we get to the back row, and it’s a pretty good feast. At No. 6 I expect Swinton to start, with his backup being Sinclair. At No. 7 obviously Hooper starts with Gamble as the backup. At No. 8 I expect Harris to get first dibs, with Gleeson his backup.
The selections get interesting if Coleman goes for a 5:3 or 6:2 bench split. If it’s a 5:2 split, then I expect Sinclair to drop out. If it is a 6:2 split, then DR has the luxury of possibly subbing his entire back row without losing much. When Hooper has to be rested, Gamble will come in. If I were a coach, I would be pretty happy to have this selection problem.
Halfback is also pretty settled. Gordon will start and play the majority of minutes, and I would expect his backup to be Goddard, who already has senior rugby experience. However, if Gordon has to have mandatory rest, then Goddard will probably start, but it is not a lay-down misère that Teddy Wilson gets a bench spot. When that happens I expect DR will go left field with a 6:2 bench split and either Donaldson or Beale being the backup half if needed.
And now we come to the conundrum of flyhalf. We have Tane Edmed, who is probably the closest No. 10 in Australia to Quade Cooper. Correct, he does not yet have the knowledge or experience of Cooper, but he certainly possesses the instincts. Give him as much time as possible.
Then we have Ben Donaldson, who’s probably more in the Foley mould. He is not going to make too many mistakes and probably also needs more time in the saddle. Will Harrison? Injury has slipped Will behind the eight ball. Unless injury strikes, I do not see him getting many minutes. For his own development and opportunities Harrison should head north in 2024 and look to replace James O’Connor.
I see Edmed starting at No. 10 with Donaldson starting at No. 15. This allows DR a dual playmaking role. I will put one caveat on this option and have Edmed starting at No. 10 if Foketi is outside him as the steadying influence.
At first glance the centers are done and dusted. Foketi and Perese are the first-choice Nos. 12 and 13. Joey Walton is a good stop-gap for No. 13, and I admit that I do not know whether Tuipulotu is a No. 12 or 13, nor do I know much about his experience level. Possibly Beale can fill No. 12 if Foketi goes down. I will look to trial form and trust DR’s judgment if either Foketi or Perese is out. One thing I do know is that the Tahs will really miss Foketi’s communication and playmaking skills if he is missing.
Now we come to the back three. Nawaqanitawase will be No. 11 with Pietsch the No. 14. I know both have previously played at No. 11, but Pietsch might have to switch. The backup wing is Nadolo, who is maybe also looking at limited game time unless injury strikes. As I have already stated, I believe the fullback should be Donaldson, with Beale as the obvious backup.
So what do I see as the ideal Waratahs in 2023?
- Angus Bell, David Porecki, Harry Johnson-Holmes
- Jed Holloway, Taleni Seu
- Lachlan Swinton, Michael Hooper, Will Harris
- Jake Gordon
- Tane Edmed
- Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese
- Bench: Te Tera Faulkner, Mahe Vailanu, Archer Holz, Ned Hanigan, Langi Gleeson, Harrison Goddard, Joey Walton, Kurtley Beale if 5:3; drop Goddard and add Charlie Gamble if 6:2.
No doubt many people will have some issues with what I’ve said, but what is definitely true is that Darren Coleman has some wonderful options in this squad to mix and match and to alter game styles and plans.