Sam Bruce, Deputy Editor,
Jun 7, 2024, 10:50 AM

The countdown is on to the first Wallabies squad naming of 2024.

In a little over a fortnight, Joe Schmidt will name his inaugural group as Australia coach, at last putting a full stop on Eddie Jones' forgettable second stint. Jones is now Japan's problem.

Just how Schmidt approaches 2024 remains to be seen, but there have been a couple of hints in the Kiwi's soundbites through the year and then in the group of players from the Waratahs and Western Force he has asked to be part of a "train-on squad" while the Super Rugby finals play out.

But Schmidt could probably use some assistance right? Read on as we decide whether to keep, dump or add to the 33-man squad that Jones took to Paris last year.

World Cup squad: James Slipper, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Zane Nonggorr, Blake Schoupp, Pone Fa'aumasili

Keep: Slipper, Tupou, Nonggorr

Dump: Bell, Schoupp, Fa'aumasili

Add: Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Gibbon, Alex Hodgman

The big concern for Schmidt comes at loosehead, where he has lost Angus Bell until at least the tail end of the Rugby Championship and veteran James Slipper continues to struggle with injury. Slipper will not play in the Brumbies' quarterfinal clash with a calf injury, while utility prop Blake Schoupp reinjured a shoulder in rushing back to cover the loss of his teammate.

The Rebels' Matt Gibbon has been a consistent performer at set-piece and around the paddock, while the Reds' Alex Hodgman has proven he can handle the Test arena having previously played for the All Blacks. Hodgman is immediately eligible for the Wallabies despite those three Tests in 2020, and previously worked with Schmidt at the Blues. Sam Talakai is another who has impressed for the Rebels this season, playing in all 14 of Melbourne's regular season games.

A tad fortunate to find himself on the plane to France last year, Zane Nonggorr made the most of his time in France and has returned a better player, while Allan Alaalatoa is a walk-up selection after he missed the World Cup with an Achilles last year. Schmidt would, however, be concerned with how badly the Brumbies scrum has been pushed around, even when Slipper and Alaalatoa were paired together up front.

World Cup squad: Dave Porecki, Jordan Uelese, Matt Faessler

Keep: Uelese, Faessler

Dump: Porecki

Add: Billy Pollard

Hooker is another problem position for Schmidt, given Porecki, the incumbent Wallabies skipper no less, did not lace a boot at all during the Waratahs' wretched Super Rugby campaign. The hooker's Achilles issue is clearly more problematic than first thought.

Just like Nonggorr, Faessler has gone from strength to strength this season and looms as Australia's first-choice rake. Uelese's lineout woes continued throughout Super Rugby, yet he remains a strong scrummager and ball-carrier and should retain his position amid the other injuries, which include the Brumbies' Lachie Lonergan.

With Lonergan sidelined since March, Billy Pollard has enjoyed a run of appearances for the Brumbies - despite a couple of weeks off himself - and deserves to add to the one Test cap he earned amid another injury crisis at hooker in 2021.

The Waratahs' Julian Heaven is another player who looks capable of stepping up to the Test arena, but both he and teammate Mahe Vailanu were caught up in NSW's astounding injury run. Tom Horton enjoyed a solid season over in Perth, meanwhile.

World Cup squad: Will Skelton, Nick Frost, Richie Arnold, Matt Philip

Keep: Frost

Dump: Skelton, Arnold, Philip

Add: Tom Hooper*, Darcy Swain, Izack Rodda, Josh Canham

Given Schmidt has indicated he is likely not to select overseas-based players for the Tests against Wales and Georgia, a line immediately goes through Skelton, Arnold and Philip. But there is no need for great panic, at least for July, as opposed to hooker and loosehead prop, Schmidt has a plethora of options available to him.

Frost continues to set the tone for Australia's second-row contingent around the paddock and sat second for all lineout takes of any lock in Super Rugby this season. His Brumbies teammate Darcy Swain has meanwhile been able to stay injury free and has demonstrated his worth in tight, defensively and at the maul. More crucially however, is that it appears he has his often-fiery temper under control.

In the west, Izack Rodda improved week on week with every game he played after returning from almost two years on the sidelines. Rodda, like Swain, revels in the tight exchanges, particularly at the attacking ruck, an area where the Wallabies have been poor in recent years.

The selection of youngster Josh Canham would then give Schmidt a nice balance across his locking stocks, with the versatile Tom Hooper* [he can also cover the back-row] rounding out the options.

Sadly, Jed Holloway appears to have paid the price for the Waratahs woes after he was left out of the aforementioned train-on squad, though his teammate Miles Amatosero has obviously shown enough for Schmidt to keep him around. Having returned from France at the start of the year, Amatosero remains a raw locking prospect, but towards the end of the season there were several glimpses that he could develop into quite the forward in a few years' time.

Elsewhere, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will be cursing a fractured foot suffered in round eight of Super Rugby Pacific, with the Rebels lock looking every inch a Wallabies forward beforehand. If he can get some club rugby under his belt through July, then the 27-year-old will surely add to his 30 Tests later this year.

The Reds' Ryan Smith, who has played every game for Queensland so far this season, is also knocking on the door for Test selection.

World Cup squad: Fraser McReight, Tom Hooper*, Rob Valetini, Langi Gleeson, Josh Kemeny, Rob Leota

Keep: McReight, Hooper*, Valetini, Leota

Dump: Gleeson, Kemeny

Add: Charlie Cale, Luke Reimer

Let's start with McReight, who has been formidable for the Reds this season. There is every chance, too, that McReight could soon captain the nation, he is squarely in the mix. Regardless of whether he is bestowed that honour, the Reds openside is a walk-up start in the Wallabies back-row. As is Valetini, it's just a question of where?

Schmidt has been tightlipped on exactly what balance he is seeking - he has remained stumm full stop really - though the early-season form of Harry Wilson reignited a previous discussion around whether he and Valetini could feature in the same back-row.

Wilson's broken arm has spared Schmidt that decision - for now - and opened up an opportunity for athletic Brumbies No.8 Charlie Cale to potentially win his first Test call-up, particularly with Langi Gleeson's indifferent season with the Waratahs.

Josh Kemeny's departure to Northampton is disappointing, but if he returns to Australia with the same level of growth that Salakaia-Loto achieved after a stint at the same club, then the Wallabies will be the beneficiaries. Meanwhile, Schmidt's decision to leave both Ned Hanigan and Lachie Swinton out of the train-on squad - they are heading overseas - could open up an opportunity for Liam Wright, who has been superb in the Reds' resurgence this season. Rob Leota, meanwhile, probably hasn't been at his best, but he retains his place in our squad, for now.

The way the Brumbies have used Luke Reimer this season must have also grabbed Schmidt's attention. The flanker's ability to come on in the second and win vital turnovers or penalties at the breakdown this season offers an insight on how he could be used at Test level, particularly in a 6-2 bench split.

World Cup squad: Tate McDermott, Nic White, Isaac Fines-Leleiwasa

Keep: Tate McDermott, Nic White

Dump: Isaac Fines-Leleiwasa

Add: Jake Gordon

While Jones came very close to dropping White and replacing him with Gordon on the eve of the World Cup, the veteran halfback retained his spot with the Waratahs skipper battling a head knock. White holds onto his Wallabies place, for now, but there is really only room for one of he or the Brumbies' Ryan Lonergan moving forward. And Lonergan is fast closing the gap.

McDermott returned from a three-week Super Rugby ban last month and the sharpness of his delivery off the deck was eye-catching. The Queenslander's pass has always been a concern, but he appears to have improved that facet of his skill set, and, as a result, can be more selective with his outstanding running game.

In a difficult year for the Waratahs, Gordon was a constant performer. The Waratahs skipper is among the best support players in the game and someone who can provide real energy off the bench. Isaac Fines-Leleiwasa has meanwhile only seen sparing game time since White's arrival in Perth.

World Cup squad: Carter Gordon, Ben Donaldson

Keep: Donaldson

Dump: Gordon

Add: Noah Lolesio

No. 10 remains the most talked about position in Australian rugby. After not featuring at all under Jones, Lolesio's form for the Brumbies this season demands a recall - as does his 84.4% goal-kicking rate, which is 8% and 15% better than Donaldson and Gordon respectively.

Lolesio has returned from a short stint with Toulon a more mature player and he deserves first crack at the Wallabies' No. 10 jersey under Schmidt. Donaldson edges Gordon here on the basis that he is the superior goal-kicker, with the Rebels playmaker needing to make significant improvement in that area. It must be the focus for wherever he next lands in rugby, if he does indeed resist a switch to the NRL.

This trio meanwhile has Tom Lynagh breathing down their neck. Should the Queenslander guide the Reds past the Chiefs in a quarterfinal on Friday, his stocks will surge even further and Donaldson could find himself in trouble, and there may even be a situation where Schmidt selects three fly-halves, pending the exact size of his Wallabies squad.

Tane Edmed, meanwhile, was included in the train-on squad reported earlier this week.

World Cup squad: Lalakai Foketi, Samu Kerevi, Izaia Perese, Jordan Petaia

Keep: Foketi

Dump: Kerevi, Perese, Petaia

Add: Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Len Ikitau, Bayley Kuenzle

There is set to be significant change in the Wallabies midfield this year, as a result of form, overseas departures and eligibility, and injury. Firstly, Hunter Paisami's outstanding form earns him an immediate recall after he was overlooked by Jones amid an injury-interrupted season in 2023.

His partnership with- and the form of- Josh Flook means the Reds outside centre warrants a look a Test level, while Len Ikitau - who is still the most confusing omission from last year's World Cup squad - will be straight back into Wallaby gold under Schmidt. Bayley Kuenzle's ability to cover multiple backline positions make him a worthwhile addition, the Force utility already included in the train-on squad.

The fact that Samu Kerevi has been playing in Japan's secondary league and Schmidt's stated desire to pick from home soil as much as possible means the veteran No. 12's Wallabies days are likely numbered, while Izaia Perese's decision to join Leicester at the end of the year has already seen him miss the train-on squad. Injury has again derailed Jordan Petaia's season, while the outside back is also still working out his next professional move - and it could be outside Australia, to the NRL or even the NFL.

World Cup squad: Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Suliasi Vunivalu, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen

Keep: Kellaway, Koroibete

Dump: Vunivalu, Nawaqanitawase, Jorgensen

Add: Tom Wright, Corey Toole, Dylan Pietsch

There is set to be significant change in Australia's outside back division this July, with form, injury and looming departures creating a major shake-up.

Tom Wright has been in irresistible form for the Brumbies, the fullback arguably Australia's standout Super Rugby player in 2024. He will continue to give his coaches the odd heart flutter, but there is far more consistency in his game and he is now making fewer of the mindless plays that cost him a trip to France last year. When you balance him with the selection of the calm and measured Andrew Kellaway, you have two thirds of an exciting back three.

Just who lines up on the other wing fosters greater discussion. Koroibete is in the same position as the other overseas-based players, although his Japanese season has already concluded and he is always a vital Wallabies contributor. It appears his retirement announcement, of sorts, was also not that accurate.

The time has come to see Wright's Brumbies teammate Corey Toole in Wallaby gold. The former sevens flyer has shown just how important a couple of extra yards of speed are out wide, finishing half-opportunities that few others across the competition have the capacity to do so. It may prove that he is too light for Test rugby, but he at least deserves the opportunity to try and prove that is not the case.

Dylan Pietsch, another sevens graduate, offers something different to Toole in a hard-running and physical option who can also attack through the heart of any opposition defence. His Waratahs teammate Max Jorgensen needs time to build up his body after another serious injury while the omission of Mark Nawaqanitawase from the train-on squad is understandable given his looming switch to the NRL - and the fact there are other options available right now.

if Schmidt does not select Koroibete for July, then Reds sensation Tim Ryan could be next in line. There is a school of thought that he should return to club rugby, which has played such a vital part of his development this season, then perhaps be taken on the spring tour at the end of the year. Jock Campbell is another Reds back waiting for an opportunity.

Our Wallabies squad [34]:

James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Zane Nonggorr, Allan Alaalatoa, Matt Gibbon, Alex Hodgman, Matt Faessler, Jordan Uelese, Billy Pollard, Nick Frost, Tom Hooper, Darcy Swain, Izack Rodda, Josh Canham, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Charlie Cale, Luke Reimer, Rob Leota, Tate McDermott, Nic White, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Ben Donaldson, Lalakai Foketi, Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Len Ikitau, Bayley Kuenzle, Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Marika Koroibete, Corey Toole, Dylan Pietsch.