Liam Wright
Queensland co-captain Lian Wright says goatee week brings the Super Rugby Pacific team closer. Image by HANDOUT/QRU
  • rugby union

Wallabies coach hoping Liam’s the Wright captaincy call

Darren Walton July 4, 2024

Joe Schmidt isn’t ruling out the captaincy merry-go-round continuing after elevating “natural leader” Liam Wright to Wallabies skipper for his first Test side since replacing Eddie Jones as coach.

Wright is the seventh Wallabies captain appointed in little more than a year, following on from Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Tate McDermott and Dave Porecki, who all led the side during Jones’ diabolical 10-month tenure.

The blindside flanker has captained the Queensland Reds since 2020 and will lead his country for the first time in Australia’s opening Test of the year against Wales in Sydney on Saturday night.

Joe Schmidt
 New coach Joe Schmidt (centre) addresses Wallabies players during training. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

“Liam, he’s really understated. He’s a leader in a Super Rugby team anyway, and so he’s got that leadership experience,” Schmidt said.

“He was identified by the players as a natural leader in the group. He’s a lineout caller, so he already has a responsibility in the team.

“Not that he calls all the lineouts, but it’s one of the things that he contributes to.

“So what all the coaches liked about Liam is, he doesn’t really say that much. He just gets on and gets the job done really well.”

But asked if he viewed the 26-year-old as a long-term captain, Schmidt said: “At the moment, everything’s pretty short-term, including our preparation.

“For this weekend, it was a discussion around who’s likely to stay on for a long period of time, who already has a responsibility in the team.

“Not all the players that were selected wanted the responsibility either. Some players just want to get on and get their own job done, and while Liam didn’t put himself forward, he’s accepted the challenge.”

Wright joins Reds teammate Fraser McReight and the Brumbies’ reigning John Eales medallist Rob Valetini in Australia’s starting back row.

Slipper will line up for his 135th appearance in the gold jersey, with hooker Matt Faessler earning his first Wallabies start alongside tighthead prop Taniela Tupou.

Western Force lock and captain Jeremy Williams and Queensland centre Josh Flook have been named to make their Wallabies debut, both in the starting XV.

Williams will partner the returning Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the second row.

Salakaia-Loto will play his first Test since 2021 after a stint in the English Premiership with Northampton.

Hunter Paisami will form a Reds midfield pairing with Flook, while NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon will combine with Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio in the halves at Allianz Stadium.

Tom Lynagh
 Tom Lynagh is poised to follow in father Michael’s footsteps and represent Australia. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

Tom Wright returns to the side at fullback, with Andrew Kellaway and Filipo Daugunu on the wings.

Billy Pollard is set to make his second Test appearance as the substitute hooker, with Alaalatoa and potential debutant Isaac Kailea the finishing props.

The 206cm-tall Angus Blyth and the athletic Charlie Cale are two others in line for a potential Wallabies debut, covering the second and back row respectively.

McDermott will provide spark as the substitute scrumhalf, with his Reds teammate Tom Lynagh set to become the 12th son of a Wallaby to pull on the gold jersey, following in the footsteps of his World Cup-winning father, Michael.

Waratahs winger Dylan Pietsch rounds out the match-day 23, named on the bench for his potential Wallabies debut.

Schmidt, still getting to know most of the players, said club combinations were key to many tight selection calls.

“We were trying to get balance in a whole lot of ways,” he said.

“Some of it is around guys who already have a relationship in their Super (teams), so we’ve got Tate and Tom coming off the bench. They’ve got a really good relationship.

“You’ve got Hunter and Josh in the middle of the field. There’s a few combinations like that.”

Wallabies: James Slipper, Matt Faessler, Taniela Tupou, Jeremy Williams, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Liam Wright (capt), Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Filipo Daugunu, Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright. Res: Billy Pollard, Isaac Kailea, Allan Alaalatoa, Angus Blyth, Charlie Cale, Tate McDermott, Tom Lynagh, Dylan Pietsch.