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Nick Phipps on 'fairy tale back home in Australia' that isn't true

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Nick Phipps has called on the authorities in Australia to keep allowing Dave Rennie to select the overseas-based players the Wallabies really need, claiming the loosening of the Giteau Law won’t result in a rush of home-based players trying their luck abroad in the belief they can now keep getting picked for Test rugby. The depth of the Wallabies squad had suffered in recent years with Michael Cheika and current boss Rennie unable to select players based at clubs outside Australia unless they had played 60 Tests and had seven years of Australian-based Super Rugby.

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Reform of that eligibility rule, though, in recent months enabled Rennie to include Samu Kerevi, Sean McMahon and Duncan Paia’aua in the squad. Their inclusion assisted the coach in guiding Australia to four straight Rugby Championship wins for the first time. 

Now amid plans to potentially include the likes of the European-based Will Skelton, Rory Arnold and Tolu Latu for the November matches versus Scotland, England and Wales, ex-Test scrum-half Phipps believes it is the right way to proceed if the Wallabies are to genuinely enjoy a great World Cup when the tournament is held in France in September 2023. 

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The 32-year-old Phipps earned the last of his 72 Test caps in September 2019 before joining London Irish in the Premiership and he has enjoyed watching from afar the progress the Wallabies have made in recent months under Rennie in the coach’s second season in charge since succeeding Cheika following the 2019 World Cup in Japan.   

“They are right at the minute to have the ability to pick and choose who they want,” said Phipps to RugbyPass when asked about the recent tweaking of the prohibitive Giteau Law to help the Wallabies get better. “I don’t think they would want to just have a blanket picking players out of everywhere. Ideally, you want to try and pick a home-playing talent at the moment and then pick and choose who you need from around.

You saw Quade (Cooper) come in, Samu Kerevi come in, Sean McMahon is an absolutely huge addition to them – those sorts of players as opposed to trying to grab players on a trial sort of basis. They will expand that more the more success they get out of it. I don’t think it will affect the home competition, to be honest. There is this sort of fairy tale back home in Australia that there are abundant contracts and playing opportunities overseas, especially in the northern hemisphere. There isn’t really and the more competitions tighten up their eligibility rules and salary caps and stuff like that, the fewer opportunities there are. 

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“I still feel the domestic competition back home is going to be awesome, especially with a lot of the young players coming through, so they shouldn’t have to worry too much about that, but they are striking the right balance at the moment being able to pick the (overseas) ones they desperately want. 

“It will be interesting to see who they pick from over here for the spring tour. It would be nice to see big Willie Skelton or Rory Arnold, or even big Robbie Simmons from our club [London Irish], get a look in. It would be nice for Rennie to include those blokes and make some decisions on that. It will be interesting to see what the squad is.”

Even though it is now two years since Phipps was omitted by Cheika for the World Cup in  Japan, he is still in regular contact with the squad and avidly follows how they are doing under Rennie. “I have still got some great mates in the team so we talk a fair bit. Me and Hoops [skipper Michael Hooper] talk a fair bit and it is good to see them doing well. 

“They have gone through a pretty tough period in the last few years and it’s just unlucky they play New Zealand three times at the beginning of every season. It’s hard to win over the fans when you are playing the world’s best team three times straight up but you can see the growth and they are doing well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they go at the end of the year on the spring tour. They have got three games lined up and we will see how the young, maturing squad goes.”

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Where does Phipps feel this growth has occurred under Rennie? “Certainly the connection, the continuity in their play. I like the style they are playing. They don’t really hold too much on the short side, they love constructing and getting around the corner and attacking to their full ability. With the physicality of the forwards, it is great how interchangeable that tight five is and the back row as well. 

“They have finally got some world-class depth to their squad where they can actually make a lot of selection decisions around that. You can see that Rennie has certainly brought the boys a lot closer together with a splattering of some old boys coming back in as well and their ability to pick players from overseas.

“Hopefully the confidence has grown back home for a great World Cup but to be honest coming over here on a spring tour is one of the toughest tasks for a southern hemisphere team and hopefully they will have the experience of the boys who have played over here in that squad and they come over ready to play.”

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Nick Phipps on 'fairy tale back home in Australia' that isn't true

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