Suliasi Vunivalu scores a try for the Wallabies against France.
Australia will look to use the aerial threat of Suliasi Vunivalu to break open World Cup defences. Image by AP PHOTO
  • rugby union

Wallabies look to aerial targets in World Cup attack

Melissa Woods September 5, 2023

Harnessing the aerial capabilities of wingers Mark Nawaqanitawase and Suliasi Vunivalu is part of the Wallabies’ plan to “play to their strengths” through the Rugby World Cup, according to assistant coach Jason Ryles.

The Wallabies open their tournament with a pool game against Georgia on Sunday (AEST) in Paris where they will look to end a five-game losing streak and stamp themselves as genuine title contenders.

Since replacing Dave Rennie as coach, Eddie Jones has talked about playing the “Wallaby way” and Ryles said that meant changing the attack to suit the players.

The former Melbourne Storm player and assistant, who worked under Jones when he was England coach, was a late replacement for the Wallabies after Brad Davis quit the post just before the squad flew to Europe.

Having observed training and the Wallabies’ 41-17 loss to France in their final warm-up match, Ryles said he could see shifts in the attack.

“I definitely think it’s improving – it was four tries to three (against France) and we could have had another one or two had the bounce of the ball gone our way,” said Ryles, who will return to the Storm post-World Cup.

“It’s heading in the right direction and it’s a Wallabies style. What I’ve picked up really quickly is that it’s less structured, it’s more about playing to the players’ strengths and then building the game plan in and around that.”

One of Australia’s tries against France was scored by Vunivalu after he soared to collect a high ball kicked by halfback Issak Fines-Leleiwasa.

A former Melbourne NRL winger, Vunivalu regularly utilised the tactic with the Storm on his way to collecting the competition’s top tryscorer gong in 2016 and 2017.

While hard-running Marika Koroibete is expected to be a lock for the other wing berth, Nawaqanitawase offers similar aerial strike-power to Vunivalu 

High balls were frequently exploited by former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau, who also started his career at the Storm.

“You haven’t bugged our meetings, have you?,” Ryles joked when questioned about the Wallabies’ kicking ploy.

“It’s there to see, it’s certainly one of their strengths.

“That’s one of the things you would have seen in the France game, that Suli and Mark had opportunities in the air one-on-one in those contestables. 

“That’s certainly something that we’re moving towards and building on.

“It’s a strength of ours and it’s something that when the time’s right we want to make sure we give them an opportunity to show what they can do.”

Ryles, who ended his 249-game NRL playing career with Melbourne in 2013, held up a rough patch of five successive losses through the club’s title-winning 2012 season as proof of how quickly fortunes can change.

“It was basically one game … but it broke that drought of not winning,” he said.

“Sometimes it takes that game and the confidence and belief builds and you turn that corner, and then you turn one win into two, into three.”

The Wallabies may be without Samu Kerevi for the Georgia match, with the strike centre only just resuming training following his broken hand, while props James Slipper (foot) and Pone Fa’amausili (calf) remain sidelined.