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Player Ratings: Australia

OPINION: The Wallabies have started their new era under coach Joe Schmidt with a confidence-building win after getting the better of Wales 25-16 at Sydney’s Football Stadium.

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It was a real battle for almost the entire 80 minutes, with the goal-kicking boot of Noah Lolesio keeping the Aussies in the fight. Taniela Tupou scored the Wallabies’ only try of the first term but the hosts seemed to take control after the break.

Filipo Daugunu and captain Tom Wright also got on the scoresheet as the Wallabies got themselves into a good position to claim victory. With their reinforcements coming off the bench, the men in gold were too good in the end.

Finn Morton rates the Australian players:

1. James Slipper – 6.5
With more than 130 Tests of experience, James Slipper was always going to play a big role against Wales as the Wallabies looked to usher in a new era with a win. It didn’t start well, with the tighthead prop penalised inside the first few minutes which allowed Wales to take a 3-nil lead, but the veteran recovered.

By the time Slipper left the park, fans could at least acknowledge and appreciate the classy shift the Wallaby had put in. Whether it was stable work at the set-piece or a desire to get involved around the park, Slipper worked hard. Loosehead props rarely stand out, and that was no different on Saturday, but the Aussie still put in a solid shift.

2. Matt Faessler – 7.5
This was only Matt Faessler’s first start in a Wallabies jersey. Whether you’re a fan of Australian rugby or even just an avid watcher of Super Rugby Pacific, that’s a fact that is almost surprising if you go off the season just gone. Faessler was on a different level with the Queensland Reds and appeared all but certain to make the No.2 jersey his own at Test level.

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Faessler was named to start against the Welsh and didn’t disappoint. The Queenslander was accurate with practically every throw at the line-out, and was also seen working hard to make an impact on either side of the ball. Faessler came close to scoring from a pick and drive early on, only for Tanila Tupou to crash over about two phases later.

Like many of the players in this Wallabies team, and you can read about it below, there were genuine signs of promise from Faessler and that should fill Australian rugby fans with a sense of hope ahead of another clash with Wales and beyond.

3. Taniela Tupou – 8
Coach Joe Schmidt put plenty of trust in Taniela Tupou leading into the first Test of the year. Tupou was named in the starting line-up whereas Allan Alaalatoa was instead picked to come off the bench. It was a bold call but one which proved to be a masterstroke in the end.

4. Jeremy Williams – 7
Named as one of seven uncapped players in the Wallabies’ 23, Western Force skipper Jeremy Williams was introduced to Test rugby and didn’t look out of place. Williams was a co-leader out of Australian players for tackles made at the break, and was also the only Wallaby to secure a turnover during the first term. It was a promising 40 minutes of Test footy from a 23-year-old with a bright future ahead of him.

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5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – 6
At one of the first line-outs of the night for the Wallabies, hooker Matt Faessler found Lukhan Salakia-Loto with an accurate throw. It was a moment that came and went pretty quickly and it’d be understandable if fans don’t remember it. But looking back on Salakaia-Loto’s performance, there’s not really another moment that stands out for the lock.

Salakaia-Loto was very good during Super Rugby Pacific, but the Welsh managed to keep the Wallaby uncharacteristically quiet at the Sydney Football Stadium. The tight five forward couldn’t quite make a telling difference in either attack or defence.

6. Liam Wright (captain) – 8
Oh captain, my captain. Queenslander Liam Wright became the 89th skipper in Wallabies history on Saturday and backed that up with a performance worthy of the role. Wright wasn’t afraid to put his head into some dark places, got stuck in by carrying the ball as well, but was especially impressive as the general at the lineut.

The loose forward even got on the end of a small cross-field at one stage. To say Wright was working tirelessly for the gold jersey, and his teammates of course, would almost be underselling it a bit. It was a captain’s knock that both Wright and coach Schmidt can take plenty of positives out of.

7. Fraser McReight – 7.5
It was a bit of a quiet night for Queenslander Fraser McReight. The openside flank only had a few carries and he was also sent to the sinbin in the 25th minute which didn’t help. But to McReight’s credit, the loose forward still got up among the leaders for the amount of tackles completed on the defensive side of the ball. The loose forward did win a near-trademark penalty at the breakdown with only a couple of minutes to play. So, it must be said that overall, McReight is the type of player the Wallabies need on the field in close Tests like this one.

8. Rob Valetini – 8
The reigning John Eales medallist did a lot of work in the trenches. Rob Valetini got the ball in a bit of space a few times but was especially important when the Wallabies looked to make some ground the hard way: pick and drives. Valetini came close to scoring from them a couple of times on the night. To sum this up, take a look at who led the game for carries. Also, the Aussie finished with an impressive 13 carries.

9. Jake Gordon – 8.5
Joe Schmidt is a genius. Without talking up this selection too much, the coach made the right call by naming Jake Gordon in the starting side. While many fans may have considered it Tate McDermott’s jersey, while Nic White was another strong option, Gordon was thrown back into the Test arena and emerged a victor.

Gordon was quick to the breakdown and both the accuracy and quickness of his passing was a real asset to this Wallabies team. Without reinventing the wheel, the halfback did exactly what was needed. The Waratahs skipper should’ve been in the conversation for Player of the Match.

10. Noah Lolesio – 7.5
Back in the Test arena after some decent time away, flyhalf Noah Lolesio didn’t skip a beat. There was a missed penalty attempt about 10 minutes into the match which obviously isn’t a positive, but just about everything else was class from the Queenslander.

Lolesio helped control the Wallabies’ tempo in attack with clear direction and rugby IQ. The playmaker also kept the Wallabies either in the contest or in the lead with his accuracy off the goal-kicking tee. The Wallabies have a winner in Noah Lolesio.

11. Filipo Daugunu – 8
When the Wallabies unveiled their 23 to take on Wales on Thursday, one of the more interesting selections was the decision to pick Filipo Daugunu on the left wing. The Reds recruit has played plenty of rugby there in the past, but if we focus on 2023, Daugunu only played one match in the No.11 jersey with the Rebels in Super Rugby Pacific.

Not that that was a problem in the end, though. Daugunu was targeted with a few restarts but took them all with ease. While the ball didn’t seem to come the wing’s time too much, Daugunu certainly made the most of one opportunity by slicing through the Welsh defensive line before running away for a decisive score. The Wallaby’s defence was also strong.

12. Hunter Paisami – 6.5
Hunter Paisami was involved in a few heated moments early on which set the tone of the Test rugby battle that was about to play out in Sydney. The inside centre played a decent role with some strong carries and tough defence. It wasn’t Paisami’s best performance of the year but it’s something to build off heading into matches against Wales and Georgia.

13. Josh Flook – 6
It was a quiet debut for Josh Flook. Flook only had a couple of carries and was eighth out of the Wallabies for the number of tackles completed. That said, the Queenslander is officially a Wallaby and this is without a doubt the start of a bright Test career ahead.

14. Andrew Kellaway – 7.5
Andrew Kellaway’s combination with Tom Wright can be something special moving forward. If you add Filipo Daugunu to that as a trio of outside backs, the Wallabies could really be onto something with some players who are well and truly in form.

Kellaway made one eye-catching run within the first quarter of the match, which saw the wing link up with fullback Wright. Away from that, Kellaway was a reliable option in the No.14 jumper with some strong carries and clever positioning.

15. Tom Wright – 8.5
Tom Wright was one of Australia’s best during Super Rugby Pacific. For fans who might be unfamiliar with the fullback, Wright was scoring tries for fun and carried that purple patch of form into the Test arena with the Wallabies.

There were glimpses of it early on. Wright would pop up here and there in attack, which included a decent carry after running a support line off Andrew Kellaway. The speedster also sent the ball over to Liam Wright with a small cross-field kick.

But when the Wallabies needed a hero, it was Tom Wright who answered the call. The Wallaby sent the Sydney crowd into a frenzy by slicing through defenders to score a decisive try with just over 10 minutes left to play. There’s plenty more to speak of but that was definitely the icing on the cake for both Wright and the Wallabies.

Replacements

16. Billy Pollard – 6
17. Isaac Kailea – 6.5
18. Allan Alaalatoa – 7
19. Angus Blyth – 7
20. Charlie Cale – 6.5
21. Tate McDermott – 6
22. Tom Lynagh – 6.5 – Looked comfortable in Test rugby.
23. Dylan Pietsch – N/A

@RugbyPass

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