ANALYSIS: Wright's elevation to Test skipper eight years in the making

Thu, Jul 4, 2024, 2:05 AM
Lachlan Grey
by Lachlan Grey

ANALYSIS: Liam Wright's unveiling as the 89th Wallabies skipper is the final step of an eight-year journey towards Australia's top job.

Questions will rightly be asked of the 26-year-old's credentials, after he was today announced as Joe Schmidt's captain to face Wales in their July Test series opener.

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The man known as "Wrongaz" boasts just five Test caps, the most recent of which came in 2020, and has since battled a heavy injury toll with six major setbacks between February 2021 and March 2023.

Many could point to the experience of past leaders like Allan Alaalatoa, James Slipper and Tate McDermott, all of whom have been named in Saturday's matchday 23.

Yet a closer inspection reveals Wright's elevation to Test captaincy has been written in the stars since 2017.

Standing at 195cm, Durban-born Wright stamped himself a future star by leading Queensland U20s to a national title before being named Australia U20's best and fairest the same year.

His age-grade form warranted selection in Brad Thorn's 2017 Queensland Country outfit with Wright going on to captain the side and playing a key role in their NRC-winning campaign.

Thorn wasn't the only coach taking notice.

Then-Wallabies coach Michael Cheika saw enough in the teenage flanker to take Wright on tour as a development player, even handing the teenager a gold jersey against the Barbarians, before a Super Rugby debut followed in 2018.

A hamstring injury ahead of the 2019 season threatened to derail Wright's development but two years and 28 Queensland caps later, Wright had impressed enough to earn the Reds' captaincy ahead of Brad Thorn's 2020 season - aged just 22.

The career that's followed has seen highs and lows in equal part.

Wright went on to lead Queensland to a Super Rugby AU decider in 2020's COVID-hampered season before suffering a major ankle setback ahead of 2021.

The syndesmosis injury sustained in a pre-season trial sparked a lengthy layover with Wright reduced to just 41 Super Rugby appearances over the next four seasons.

Such setbacks could easily have dulled Wright's influence and role as a leader.

Instead, a shift towards coaching and mentoring withing the Queensland system - first touted in 2018 as a lineout assistant to Thorn's Queensland Country - saw Wright's star shine brighter still

Now three years into his co-captaincy with fellow Wallaby Tate McDermott, Wright has also taken on coaching responsibilities with the Queensland Challenger Series program.

This off-field development - coupled with a 10kg weight gain - saw Wright return this year a more complete player and leader who now sits outright third on the all-time Queensland captain's list (54), trailing only James Horwill (69) and Mark Loane (64).

Those watching the Reds' Super Rugby campaign would've noted his extra size and breakdown effectiveness, sharp lineout work (1st in competition - 69), and strong defence (7th in competition - 185).

Wright's durability on the blindside flank has also been noted with him playing 80 minutes in all bar one of 15 appearances this year.

It's no surprise, then, that Joe Schmidt has taken a liking to the Easts Tigers junior.

A versatile 80-minute backrower with 80+ Super caps (most coming as captain or co-captain) and coaching experience.

A leader who's returned from multiple setbacks, who's progressed through the Australian age-grade and club pathways, and who sure as hell knows the value of a Wallaby jersey.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether "Wrongaz" elevation to the Test captaincy is the Wright call.

But few have worked as hard to don the gold once more.

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