Test centurions Michael Hooper and James Slipper will co-captain the Wallabies in 2023 after head coach Eddie Jones unveiled a 34-man squad of young guns, old warhorses and rough diamonds for his first Rugby Championship back in charge.
With former England coach Jones returned to the Wallabies top job he held 2001-05, there had been speculation of a leadership shakeup but Jones has instead shared power between his two warhorses. Hooper, 31, holds the record for most Tests as Wallaby captain with 68, while Slipper sits third on the all-time appearances list behind Stephen Moore (129) and George Gregan (139), with 127 matches for his country.
It is the first time the Wallabies have installed co-captains, with Hooper now having been appointed leader of the national side under four separate head coaches.
Naming his first Test squad since his second coming as coach, Jones said: “Michael and James are both world class players, strong leaders and embody what it means to be a Wallaby. They have worked hard with the leadership group since January, and it will be important they continue to have strong support from the players around them.
Hooper, who took a mental health sabbatical from the game last season, said: “It’s an absolute honour to lead the squad alongside Slips. We’ve been having great discussions as a leadership group and wider squad throughout the year and there’s a really optimistic mindset as a collective heading into what’s a massive four months.”
Slipper, who filled Hooper’s shoes as captain when he broke camp to come home 48-hours before last year’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina, said: “I’m really proud to lead my country and am looking forward to working with Hoops and Eddie to bring this group together and win trophies.”
Jones has named eight uncapped players in the group with Melbourne Rebels duo Carter Gordon and Josh Kemeny rewarded with selection in their first national squad, along with Reds front rowers Matt Faessler and Zane Nonggorr. ACT Brumbies teammates Tom Hooper and Ryan Lonergan have also earned call-ups, as has NSW Waratahs flyer and former Australia Sevens representative Dylan Pietsch.
Towering lock, Richie Arnold – 32-years-old and measuring 208cm – is the final uncapped player, joining the group just over a week after winning the Top 14 with Stade Toulouse in France. His identical twin brother Rory – Australia’s highest-paid rugby player – has missed selection after remaining in Japan.
But there was better news for Wallabies supporters out of Japan and further proof of Jones’s wiliness. Under RA’s Overseas Players Selection Policy (the “Giteau Law”), a national coach can apply for more than the normal three eligible overseas players in the case of extenuating circumstances. In a surprise coup, Jones received approval to select two additional overseas-based players for a total of five in his 34-man squad.
The three selected under the standard policy are centre Samu Kerevi, winger Marika Koroibete and lock Will Skelton, with the additional two players being Richie Arnold and experienced flyhalf and 76-Test veteran Quade Santini Cooper.
The omission of veteran playmakers Bernard Foley and James O’Connor and 12-Test Noah Lolesio means the race for the No 10 jersey is down to 35-year-old conjuror Cooper and 22-year-old whizkid Carter Gordon who now play sorcerer and apprentice.
The Wallabies are under intense pressure after falling to No 7 in the world rankings under former-coach Dave Rennie. But Jones says a “smash and grab” on the Rugby World Cup in Paris this September is possible. But he had a warning for his players: “Getting selected in the squad is just the start. We’ve got to build the team now and that will require hard work and getting a little bit more out of everyone involved.”
With Max Jorgensen, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda and Corey Toole injured, Jones will rehab a fleet of stars (Angus Bell, Langi Gleeson, Andrew Kellaway, Samu Kerevi, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip) as the squad assembles on the Gold Coast to prepare for the Rugby Championship opener against South Africa in Pretoria on July 8.
Allan Alaalatoa (29, ACT Brumbies, 64 Tests), Richie Arnold (32, Stade Toulousain, uncapped), Matt Faessler (24, Queensland Reds, uncapped), Nick Frost (23, ACT Brumbies, 9 Tests), Matt Gibbon (28, Melbourne Rebels, 5 Tests), Jed Holloway (30, NSW Waratahs, 10 Tests), Michael Hooper (co-captain) (31, NSW Waratahs, 124 Tests), Tom Hooper (22, ACT Brumbies, uncapped), Rob Leota (26, Melbourne Rebels, 13 Tests), Fraser McReight (24, Queensland Reds, 10 Tests), Zane Nonggorr (22, Queensland Reds, uncapped), David Porecki (30, NSW Waratahs, 10 Tests), Pete Samu (31, ACT Brumbies, 32 Tests), Will Skelton (31, La Rochelle, 24 Tests), James Slipper (co-captain) (34, ACT Brumbies, 127 Tests), Taniela Tupou (27, Queensland Reds, 47 Tests), Jordan Uelese (26, Melbourne Rebels, 15 Tests), Rob Valetini (24, ACT Brumbies, 30 Tests)
Quade Cooper (35, Kintetsu Liners, 76 Tests), Lalakai Foketi (28, NSW Waratahs, 5 Tests), Carter Gordon (22, Melbourne Rebels, uncapped), Reece Hodge (28, Melbourne Rebels, 54 Tests), Len Ikitau (24, ACT Brumbies, 26 Tests), Marika Koroibete (30, Saitama Wild Knights, 51 Tests), Ryan Lonergan (25, ACT Brumbies, uncapped), Tate McDermott (24, Queensland Reds, 21 Tests), Mark Nawaqanitawase (22, NSW Waratahs, 3 Tests), Izaia Perese (26, NSW Waratahs, 3 Tests), Suliasi Vunivalu (27, Queensland Reds, 1 Test), Nic White (33, ACT Brumbies, 59 Tests)
Tom Wright (26, ACT Brumbies, 23 Tests)
Ben Donaldson (23, NSW Waratahs, 2 Tests), Josh Kemeny (24, Melbourne Rebels, uncapped), Dylan Pietsch (25, NSW Waratahs, uncapped)