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'More competition for places': The 'message' dropped stars received from Wallabies selectors

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

There were two glaring omissions from Dave Rennie’s first Wallabies squad of the year, which was named ahead of a four-day training camp on the Gold Coast.


The 44-player Wallabies squad boasts an impressive list of world class talent including star pivot Quade Cooper and flanker Michael Hooper.

But following a disastrous campaign last season, which was defined by an injury crisis, some big name players missed out on selection with the World Cup nigh on the horizon.

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Talented playmaker James O’Connor and winger Suliasi Vunivalu were both omitted from Rennie’s training camp plans.

More than 50 players donned Wallaby gold last year, but that list has been cut down to 44, and will become even more selective later this year as only 33 players will go to France.

“It’s the advantage of a lot of injuries I guess, we’ve used a lot of players last year and there’s more competition for places now which is really good,” Rennie said.

“We’ve got a couple of guys who would normally be in Japan recovering from long term injuries so it’s nice to have Quade and Samu in here.


“It’s a massive year, it’s exciting. We’re going to light a fire over the next couple of days and work hard that we head up north in the best possible condition to play our best footy over the last four years.”

Clearly, both O’Connor and Vunivalu have a point to prove in Super Rugby Pacific this season with the Queensland Reds.

O’Connor was one of five players to start in the No. 10 jersey for the national team last season, but paid a hefty price after a stunning loss to Argentina in Mendoza.

The 32-year-old was dropped from the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship squad before their two test matches against reigning World Cup champions South Africa.


Veteran flyhalf Bernard Foley came into the squad and delivered some quality performances against the All Blacks, and Noah Lolesio impressed when he was given the opportunity to play.

But along with Australia’s other “fringe players”, O’Connor has to play “good Super Rugby” if he wants to force back into the national squad.

“I had a good chat to ‘Rabs’ (O’Connor) prior to us announcing the team,” he added

“He’s come back from injury, back training fully and actually in really good nick running quicker than we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

“He looks sharper, so his focus is playing good Super Rugby and putting pressure on us to select him in the camp in April. That’s the message we’ve given to a number of fringe players.”

As for Suliasi Vunivalu, the former Melbourne Storm winger seemingly faces an uphill battle to play at the World Cup after a disappointing season last year.

The exciting talent made his Wallabies debut in the series deciding test against England at the SCG, btu that was only appearance of the year.

While he played some valuable minutes for Australia A in Japan, Vunivalu was pushed down the pecking order by rising star Mark Nawaqanitawase.

“Suli has got really clear messages.

“We need to see him run fast. We need to see him open up and repeat of speed efforts. We know his ability aerially is excellent.


“He needs to put in good performances at Super level. He had a couple of runs with Australia A and needs to build on it.

“What we saw from Mark Nawaqanitawase is a man who’s equally good (as Vunivalu) aerially, but is good all over the park. His speed and repeat speed was excellent as was his post-tackle work and his defensive work.

“He grabbed his opportunity and played the best three games of his life at test level. The challenge for him is to make sure that he comes in and wants to be better. That’s the message he’ll get over the next couple of days.”


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