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The players set to profit from Wales' new gameplan

With the Pivac era now a distant memory, Warren Gatland has a rich seam of talent to select from in the Six Nations

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Dave Rennie admits Wallabies' first-choice fullback still a mystery

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Tom Wright will become the fourth player to wear the Wallabies No 15 jersey on their 2022 end-of-year tour when he runs out against Wales on Saturday.

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In the past four matches, Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway and Jock Campbell have all been given opportunities at fullback. The former two have now departed Europe nursing foot injuries while Campbell has been named on the bench for what will be Australia’s final Test of the season.

With Kellaway unavailable after last weekend’s narrow loss to Ireland, Wright has shifted to fullback from the left wing, Mark Nawaqanitawase has swapped the No 14 jersey for No 11 and Jordan Petaia will round out the trio on the right.

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“We definitely discussed playing Jock (at fullback),” said head coach Dave Rennie. “We just felt that if we played Jock and Mark and Jordy, there’s not a lot of voice there and that’s going to be really important.

“We could have [kept Wright on] the wing and then left one of the other guys out, but they were both excellent last week and we wanted to give them a chance to start together.

“Jock’s very much in the mix. It’s the modern game. He’ll make a contribution, but it’ll be off the bench.”

Petaia has also been given one run at fullback this year, starting at No 15 against England in July. Reece Hodge, who will feature in the midfield on Saturday, rounds out the six players who have taken on the fullback role this season.

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While Rennie believes there are ample candidates to take on the responsibilities, he admitted that it remains somewhat of a mystery who would be asked to don 15 in a first-choice Wallabies line-up.

“No,” he responded when asked if he knew his preferred fullback.

“I think what we’ve found out this year – because we’ve used a lot of 15s – is we’ve got some genuine strong options here now. We’ve played Andrew Kellaway there, we’ve played Tom Banks and Tom Wright. Jordy was down to play there at one stage. We’ve used Hodgie back there, we’ve used Jock Campbell. So I think we’ve genuinely developed some really strong options back there.

“But as to who’s got the nod from a World Cup point of view, it’s pretty tight.”

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With just half a dozen Tests remaining between now and the Wallabies’ first game of the 2023 tournament, time is running out for Rennie to make a decision.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the fullback options aren’t always used in the role for the Super Rugby Pacific sides.

Kellaway played zero games at fullback for the Rebels this year, with Hodge preferred in that role, and was instead given runs at centre and on the wing. Wright was used almost exclusively on the wing for the Brumbies this year while Petaia shifted between fullback, wing and centre for the Reds.

Although Rennie and Wallabies management will work with the Super Rugby sides ahead of next year’s Test calendar, the final say ultimately resides with the Super coaches.

“We’ll certainly talk to the clubs around the players,” said Rennie. “When we get back, we’ll go around and we’ll sit down and go through their IDPs (individual development plans) and give a bit of feedback around where they’re at and what we think their focus needs to be and the clubs will have maybe a point of difference here; they may feel that another area’s important for them for how they want to play, so we’ll include that as well.

“As far as selection goes, we may have a chat that ideally we’d like so and so to get some time in a certain position but ultimately, they’ll do what’s best for their group and we’ve got to accept that.”

Saturday’s fixture between Wales and Australia will kick off at 3:15pm GMT from the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

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