Harlequins No8 Alex Dombrandt and London Irish opposite number Albert Tuisue know all about international rejection and will use their head-to-head clash tomorrow to continue battling for test rugby recognition.
Dombrandt has just been crowned Premiership Player of the Month and despite a series of storming performances in club colours he has failed to convince Eddie Jones that he is ready to fill the England Six Nations squad void created by Billy Vunipola’s fourth broken arm.
Uncapped Dombrandt is yet to experience test rugby while Tuisue has played seven times for Fiji having given up a career in the Island’s police force to follow his dream. Despite breaking into the Fiji team under coach John McKee, Tuisue had to deal with the bitter disappointment of failing to make the final 2019 Rugby World Cup squad in Japan. With McKee now having been replaced by former Scotland coach and current Montpellier director of rugby Vern Cotter, the door could now be open for the hard-running ball carrier to earn a recall.
Like Dombrandt, Tuisue knows that impressing in the Premiership is the only way he can move up the rankings and Less Kiss, the London Irish head coach, believes his No8 has all the attributes to impress Cotter when he takes over as Fiji coach in the summer.
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Kiss has seen Tuisue carry the ball 117 times, including 15 during the morale boosting away win at Northampton for an Irish side that is still evolving following the arrival of high profile players including Wallaby test stars Adam Coleman and Sekope Kepu. Irish have just returned from a warm weather training camp near Alicante and now they must try to build on that win over Northampton by subduing Dombrandt and his fellow Quins at the Twickenham Stoop.
Kiss is relishing the clash of the 18stones No8’s and told RugbyPass: “It is going to be a really good battle and Albert floats under the radar for us because he does a lot of the dirty work and carrying. He takes a lot of pressure off the other backrow guys and when we first got Albert over here we thought he had done enough to make the World Cup but he wasn’t selected. That hurt him a bit and he came back to us as a man on a mission and playing in the Premiership has to be good for him going forward.
“Vern (Cotter)is going to see a lot of Albert playing at this level and the great thing about him is he is robust and keeps trucking along. Dombrandt is another beast and he is a good footballer and the battle between them off the base of the scrum is going to be massive. The battle of the back rows will be pretty juicy.
“We are exploring who we are at the moment and Sekope has only been with us for five weeks and that win at Northampton had an impact. You need to go through tough situations and forge something worthy from it an the most pleasing thing was the players fought so hard and to get the victory has to do something for confidence. However, this game can give you a kick in the butt. We trained near Alicante because we didn’t have a getaway pre-season and felt that the most important time to go away was when everyone is here.
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“Because we have had to drip-feed new players in has given the season its own character and we had a wobble over the Christmas period but we now have everyone involved.”
That “everyone” includes Ireland international Sean O’Brien, one of the club’s major summer signings who is still battling to overcome injury. The good news for tenth-placed Irish is that the flanker could be in the mix in a month which makes the second half of the season really significant even if the threat of relegation has been removed due to Saracens’ fall from grace. A fit-again O’Brien allied to the summer move to their new home at the Brentford stadium makes this an exciting time for the club.
Kiss added: “Sean is coming along and has done some full-on contact work and hopefully over the next month we should get some clarity about the timeline. He is getting closer.
“When I heard that Saracens were going to be relegated the alarms bells rang because this game doesn’t give you anything and you wondered if people would take their foot off the accelerator. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case. I think there is still pressure because you don’t want to come second last in the league.“
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