Who’d be a first-time international rugby coach under the cloud of the coronavirus?
Naming his maiden Wallabies team has turned into a devilish task for Dave Rennie, who quite likely will have to base his selection off just seven rounds of Super Rugby evidence.
In the latest episode of The Academy, Brisbane Boys’ pre-season comes to a punishing conclusion:
The chances of a Super Rugby resumption and even of home Tests against Ireland and Fiji in July going ahead are looking increasingly bleak, while the game’s financial foundations have a sickly appearance.
It’s to that backdrop that Glasgow-based Rennie must bunker down and contemplate the form of the four Australian teams and assess the merits of a promising batch of rookie players if and when the 2020 Test season commences.
Rennie’s choices at five-eighth and loose forward will determine whether he’s leaning towards new blood or wanting to open his tenure with proven performers.
At playmaker, veterans Matt To’omua and James O’Connor had warmed to their task at No.10 for the Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds respectively.
Both 52-Test utilities have rarely played five-eighth for their country but could be seen as more reliable candidates than Will Harrison (Waratahs) and Noah Lolesio (Brumbies) who have shown encouraging levels of composure in their maiden campaigns.
The two youngsters are among a clutch of last year’s impressive Junior Wallabies alumni who will have turned Rennie’s head.
At the front of that group is Queensland Reds No.8 Harry Wilson, who has barged the door down with his attacking skills and work rate.
New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia are both facing significant financial losses collectively totalling in nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.https://t.co/irVJvfYBiL
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 27, 2020
Unfortunately for the 20-year-old, Rebels back-rower Isi Naisarani has taken his 2019 form to another level while Pete Samu has been a weapon at the base of the Brumbies scrum, unleashing his frustration at missing World Cup selection last year.
Rob Valetini has been a Brumbies powerhouse while fellow-youngster Liam Wright has shone as Reds skipper on the openside flank, applying some serious heat to the selection of Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, whose cause wasn’t helped by the Waratahs’ abysmal start to the season.
Rennie has forward depth in some positions – Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou are two of the world’s foremost tighthead props – but not in others.
Replacing departed lock Rory Arnold could be a challenge although Matt Philip (Rebels) and Cadeyrn Neville have put their hands up, the latter a physical presence for the Australian Conference-leading Brumbies.
Other Brumbies to mount their case in the backline are fullback Tom Banks and uncapped inside centre Irae Simone, while established Test star Kurtley Beale has failed to really impose himself for the Waratahs.
Jordan Petaia’s season-ending injury was a major blow given a lack of depth out wide, although the Rebels have a clutch of outside backs in decent form.
That includes speedy winger Andrew Kellaway, whose seven tries in six games may leave him standing as the leading try-scorer in the shortest Super Rugby season on record.
POSSIBLE WALLABIES XV: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Nic White, Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper, Isi Naisarani, Izack Rodda, Cadeyrn Neville, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper.
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