'Likely to happen': Rennie explains how Cooper and O'Connor will fit
The return of Quade Cooper in the starting Wallabies side came at an opportune time, with last year’s starter James O’Connor battling to return from injury and Noah Lolesio going through a rough patch of form.
Cooper has led the Wallabies to four straight wins since returning, propelling his Wallabies stocks to new highs with talk that he could make the 2023 World Cup squad.
Experienced pivot O’Connor, meanwhile, returned from injury in the last two tests against Argentina, coming off the bench as a replacement, leaving Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie with a selection conundrum in the No 10 jersey.
However, Rennie explained how he intends to find balance between putting O’Connor back into the mix versus rewarding Quade Cooper for his play so far.
“They’ve tag-teamed it the last couple of tests,” Rennie said of his two veteran playmakers on Sunday.
“That’s likely to happen again. We are fortunate, we’ve got a couple of very experienced 10s in the mix. Their contribution on the field and at training has been great.
“In the end, we are going to reward who we think is doing the best job and suits this fixture, so that person will get to start but as we know, the 23 is crucial.
“Everyone plays reasonable minutes nowadays, so one of those guys will get their opportunity off the bench.”
Australia’s clash against Japan this weekend falls outside the November test window that requires clubs to release players for international duty, so there is no guarantees that Cooper will be available just yet.
While Cooper is expected to be released, as most of Japan’s team also need to be available for selection, Rennie explained that discussions are ongoing to get the appropriate blessings from overseas clubs.
“Technically, from a Reg 9 perspective, players have to be released for international duty, so that includes Scotland, England and Wales for us, but we are also conscious that we want to build a strong relationship with the clubs.
“So, we are talking through that at the moment.”
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The Wallabies also have two other Japan-based players in Suntory Sungoliath duo Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi.
Rennie confirmed that McMahon won’t be available for the test against the Brave Blossoms, while Kerevi is nursing a knee injury that needs to pass a fitness test, should he be released by Suntory.
“Sean isn’t available for this game. Immediately after we played on the Gold Coast, he came home, spent time with family, so he’s outside our bubble,” Rennie said.
“Samu got a syndesmosis injury from the last game, so we will test that over the coming days to get clarity over whether he is available this week anyway.
“From a club perspective, we’ve been talking to both clubs and the relationship side of it is key for us.”
If Kerevi fails to pass the fitness test, Rennie is not concerned that his side’s attack would suffer with the selection of someone else after suggestions that they have been over-reliant on their star midfielder.
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He expressed full confidence in Hunter Paisami, who looms as a strong candidate to replace Kerevi, and pointed to the growth in young midfielder Len Ikitau as an example of an inexperienced player stepping up when required.
“There’s no doubt Samu’s been excellent, but he hasn’t been our only source to go forward. We’ve had guys like Rob Valetini carrying a lot of ball for us to create go-forward,” Rennie said.
“I guess over the last weeks, we’ve been very direct too, so a lot of our big men carrying, trying to give us yardage and create go-forward.
“What we know, if it was Hunter that replaced him, he’d started every test, bar one, prior to being unavailable with the birth of his daughter, so we’ve got a lot of confidence in him.
“With Quade at 10, a very experienced 10, it’d be good for those young men outside him. We’ve seen Lenny Ikitau really grow over the past few months and expect him to keep doing that, so it’s a great opportunity, isn’t it?
“If Samu doesn’t play, someone has to step up. That’s what we’ve seen constantly from other players throughout the last few months.”
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