The bid to wear the Wallabies No.15 jersey at next year’s Rugby World Cup is shaping as a hotly contested battle between at least six contenders, with incumbent Tom Banks laying down a marker with a bright start to Super Rugby Pacific.
On Wednesday, The Roar expert Nicholas Bishop, discussed relative merits of two of those Banks challengers who made their first fullback starts for the season last week – Queensland’s Jordie Petaia and Waratahs’ Will Harrison.
The fascinating topic was also tackled by The Roar Rugby Podcast where hosts Brett McKay and Harry Jones were joined by special guest and Sydney Morning Herald rugby writer Iain Payten. You can stream their discussion about that contentious position and plenty more from the world of rugby in the player below – or follow on your favourite podcast app.
While Banks has had a hot start in the Brumbies’ unbeaten surge this season, he will face challenges from the two named by Bishop, along with returning Kurtley Beale, Reds’ Jock Campbell, Reece Hodge of the Rebels, and Harry Jones’ tip, James O’Connor.
Payten kicked off the discussion by making the case for Banks to reclaim the he jersey he lost midway through last season when he suffered a broken arm.
“It’s still Banks, really. Everyone loves the fact Jordie Petaia had a great game in his move back to fullback but there are two elements there – it was about getting him with the ball in his hands. A great disappointment of Jordie Petaia is we don’t see enough of him,” said Payten.
“He’s an incredible athlete and that was fantastic as far as it goes getting the ball in his hands. The second element was the fact it was against Fijian Drua who were never going to play a kicking game so we didn’t really get a sense of whether he can position himself well.
“He’s very good under the high ball but does he have that kind of tactical smarts required?
“I don’t see Jordie Petaia being a contender for the Wallabies fullback jersey. Banks has got it, we just need Banks to be more consistent.
“He’s been brilliant for the Brumbies for a number of years now. I don’t know that he’s necessarily taken that form to the Wallabies yet and I don’t quite know why. Whether that’s a function of the Wallabies’ systems don’t suit him or he is a little more reticent to do what he does for the Brumbies with the Wallabies, but solving that problem is the thing we need to do rather than look for a different fullback.”
Payten said Wallabies coach Dave Rennie would likely want Beale around the squad, with the veteran having impressed him on the northern tour in November.
But for a starter, Banks was the man.
“The answer has to be taking Banks’ brilliance to the next level,” Payten said. “I’d really love to see him do that in a Wallabies jersey.”
Harry Jones compared the Australian fullbacks to those in the Six Nations.
“Fullbacks are like No.8s,” Jones said. “It’s one of the few positions on the field where you can really have a point of difference . Teams play very differently and can ask their 15s to be different things – am I safe as houses, am I a counter, am I a left and right kicker, a playmaker coming in to the line, am I defensive organiser?
“For me Banks shapes as a poor man’s Stuart Hogg, he has those moments at Test level that look excruciating, at times they look brilliant. A little bit like Hogg, it depends on what he ate that day if he’s fast or not – he sometimes can be reeled in very easily.”
Jones said Harrison looked “a little frail. I think he could get munched at Test level,” while Petaia “scares me more as a Boks fan than any of the other guys.”
He added he would pick O’Connor for a big match like a World Cup quarter or semifinal.
“It’s ridiculous, I realise, and Banks is the incumbent but I always think he’s going to make a mistake.”
Brett McKay wistfully cast his gaze back to a retired former Rebels No.15. “I’d love if Dane Haylett Petty was 27, 28 now and a yard or two quicker. I think he was such an underrated player and would be so handy.”
Payten concluded: “It’s a problem position. I don’t think any of those names you put up you sign it off and go great choice. This is where you get to least worst option territory.”
Who wears the No.15 if you’re the Wallabies selector?