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Wallaby coach admits confusion as he plays the long game

SPOTLIGHT: Coach Joe Schmidt admits he probably won’t know his best Wallabies starting side until December, as he builds towards next year’s British and Irish Lions series.

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Schmidt said while he’d love to break New Zealand’s 21-year stranglehold on the Bledisloe Cup this year, he’s playing the long game – with 2025’s incoming series the target.

Australia’s first Tests under the Kiwi coach will be against Wales in Sydney on July 6 and Melbourne a week later, while they play a one-off Test against World Cup foes Georgia back in Sydney on July 20.

The Bledisloe Cup is a two-Test series as part of the Rugby Championship in late September, before they will hunt a grand slam on the November tour to the UK and Ireland.

Schmidt said, while he will pick the “best available” team to take on Wales, it could take all 13 Tests – the last of the year coming against his former side Ireland on November 30 – before he’s clear on his first-choice line-up.

He has been scouring the options at the five Australian Super Rugby Pacific sides and said there is an exciting mix of fresh faces and experience in the selection pot.

“We started with a list that was about three deep in every position and that list has been jumbled around,” Schmidt said on Wednesday at an announcement of afternoon kick-offs for three home Tests.

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“Names have appeared on the bottom of it and the list has grown.

“That’s confusing a little bit for me, and makes more work because I’m trying to track different players – but it’s exciting.”

Asked when he would know his best 15 he said “early December”.

“When you learn most around players and selection is when you’ve had time with them,” Schmidt said.

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“I’m looking forward to the end-of-year tour to have a little bit more time with them.

“It’s probably facetious to say early December but that’s when we’ll get a bit more growth from the team.

“Through these early games we’ll know our best available 15 when we name it to play Wales.

“We’re taking it one step at a time but we want to be really competitive from the first kick-off.

“We want to be as competitive as we can be when the Lions arrive – that’s my massive target, that’s the pinnacle that’s next up.”

While not ruling out overseas selection completely, Schmidt plans to prioritise Super Rugby players over those such as Japan-based wing Marika Koroibete or World Cup skipper Will Skelton, who is in France.

He said picking local helped with combinations and cohesion within the Wallabies, while it also encouraged the best players to stay home and strengthen the Super teams.

Australia’s teams have performed notably better in the win-loss ratio against the Kiwis this season, with Schmidt wanting to see more consistency and an improvement in closing out tight games.

“It’s probably fluctuated a little bit, like the Bledisloe have in the last two years, where being competitive one week hasn’t necessarily materialised into being competitive the next week.

“Driving that consistency of performance is massively important, so trying to build that is going to be part of the challenge.”

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