The winners and losers of Dave Rennie's 40-man Wallabies training squad
Wallabies boss Dave Rennie has given the first indication as to what his team will look like when England travel Down Under for a three-test tour of Australia in July.
In an announcement on Sunday, Rennie revealed a 40-man training squad, made up of domestically-based players, that will come together on the Gold Coast next month in preparation of their mid-year fixtures.
The squad isn’t the final product as not all 40 players will feature against the English in three months’ time, nor does it feature any of Australia’s offshore-based stars such as Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, among others.
However, it is indicative of who has, and hasn’t, impressed Rennie thus far in Super Rugby Pacific, with some player movement evident from last year’s season-ending tour of Japan and the United Kingdom.
With that in mind, here is a list of winners and losers following the announcement of Rennie’s enlarged preliminary training squad.
Arguably the biggest bolter of the new Wallabies squad, first-five Ben Donaldson is rewarded for an impressive start to Super Rugby Pacific, where he has been key in helping guide the Waratahs out of last year’s winless campaign and into a top four spot.
A regular for the Reds since his debut three years ago, Jock Campbell joins a healthy contingent of outside backs at the Wallabies. Preferred as a fullback by Rennie, the 26-year-old faces competition from Tom Banks, Jordan Petaia and Reece Hodge for the green-and-gold No 15 jersey.
Returning to the Waratahs after a one-season spell at Toyota Verblitz, Jed Holloway has been named in his first Wallabies squad at the age of 29 due to his ability as a lock, a weak spot for Australia, as well as his experience, versatility and broad skillset.
Another veteran player included in his first Wallabies squad, Force wing Toni Pulu reunites with Rennie after having worked under him at the Chiefs. Qualified for Australia via his mother, the 32-year-old played sevens for Niue more than a decade ago and has impressed Rennie with his athleticism and skillset.
Long-touted as a top prospect ever since he moved to New Zealand to join Canterbury and the Crusaders as a youth player, Nick Frost has been picked by Rennie, despite his decision to sign with the Wild Knights in Japan. Perhaps that’s indicative of how highly the uncapped Brumbies lock is regarded by the Wallabies.
According to Rennie, uncapped Waratahs hooker Dave Porecki would have already played test rugby for the Wallabies had he not been injured last year. That’s a big tick of approval for the 29-year-old ex-Saracens and London Irish rake, who stood out to Rennie through his scrummaging.
Having been included in numerous Wallabies training camps under various coaches dating as far back as 2012, Cadeyrn Neville is back again as he continues his search for a long-awaited test cap. As a second rower, this looms as a promising chance for the Brumbies lock to put his hand up for future selection in a position the Wallabies aren’t blessed with depth in.
The only uncapped player of the four halfbacks named in the squad, Brumbies scrumhalf Ryan Longergan has forced his way back into the national set-up after being included for last year’s Rugby Championship, only to then miss the end-of-year tour.
The younger Lonergan brother has also been named by Rennie after also missing selection for last year’s tour of Japan and the United Kingdom. The Brumbies hooker, who debuted for the Wallabies last year and played four tests, will compete with fellow rakes Folau Fainga’a, Feleti Kaitu’u and Porecki for the No 2 jersey.
One of a handful of players initially left behind and told to improve their game during Australia’s end-of-year tour, Brumbies first-five Noah Lolesio has played his way back into the Wallabies after bearing the fruits of his off-season work in Super Rugby Pacific.
Another who was omitted from the Wallabies squad for the end-of-year tour, the form of Reds No 8 Harry Wilson has been recognised by selection in Rennie’s latest roster.
Reds flanker Fraser McReight joined Lolesio and Wilson in the scrapheap late last year as Rennie called on the youngster to “accelerate his game” to challenge Michael Hooper for the national No 7 jersey. It will still take a herculean effort to usurp the Wallabies skipper, but McReight has thrust himself back into the mix with some strong Super Rugby Pacific showings.
It’s been some time since Harry Johnson-Holmes was last involved in the Wallabies, having not featured for the national side since his test debut against the Springboks in 2019. However, the Waratahs prop has clearly impressed Rennie to put himself back into contention.
He was always going to be a selection certainty, but the inclusion of Brumbies fullback Tom Banks must be seen as a positive after he missed last year’s tour of Japan and the United Kingdom due to injury.
Possibly the most fortunate player to make the cut after enduring a horror start to Super Rugby Pacific, but the selection of Reece Hodge in spite of his lack of form indicates Rennie has faith in the experienced Rebels utility back.
Could this be the end of Matt To’omua’s test career? The Rebels first-five, who has’t played for the Wallabies since their heavy Bledisloe Cup loss to the All Blacks last August, is the biggest name missing from Rennie’s latest squad. Rennie wants To’omua to play at second-five, but the ongoing exclusion of the 32-year-old doesn’t bode well for his future.
Maybe Lukhan Salakaia-Loto’s imminent departure to Northampton played a part in his omission from this squad, but that didn’t stop Rennie from picking the Japan-bound Frost. Perhaps injury influenced the Reds lock’s exclusion, but Tate McDermott, Jake Gordon, Lachlan Swinton and Rob Leota have still be selected. Either way, Salakaia-Loto’s future as a Wallaby looks uncertain.
Little has been made of Filipo Daugunu’s exclusion in the aftermath of this squad announcement, but he is available and still didn’t make the cut. That’s reflective of the wing’s continual omissions from the Reds in recent weeks, having not played since late last month.
A mainstay of the Wallabies squad throughout last year’s Rugby Championship and end-of-year tour, Force prop Tom Robertson misses out on this squad shortly after having injured his calf in the lead-up to his side’s win over the Fijian Drua on Saturday.
Like To’omua, veteran Brumbies prop Scott Sio hasn’t played for the Wallabies since their back-to-back losses to the All Blacks at Eden Park last August. The 30-year-old was then excluded from last November’s touring squad, and he appears to have lost his place to the likes of Johnson-Holmes and Angus Bell in the national pecking order.
Part of the Wallabies squad for the last two years, Rebels prop Pone Fa’amausili hasn’t taken to the field in Super Rugby Pacific this season due to a calf injury, leading to his exclusion from Rennie’s latest team.
Another whose last Wallabies appearance came in their losing efforts to the All Blacks last August, Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese has a long ahead of him if he wants to play test rugby again. Rennie currently prefers Fainga’a, Kaitu’u, Lonergan and Porecki ahead of Uelese, who also trails behind France-based duo Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Tolu Latu.
Similarly, Brumbies hooker Connal McInerney finds himself well down the national pecking order after having impressed enough to earn a test debut last year. The 27-year-old may need to find a new franchise if he is win a re-call given his Super Rugby Pacific teammates Fainga’a and Lonergan were both picked by Rennie.
Wallabies legend Tim Horan has been a vocal advocate for young Force playmaker Reesjan Pasitoa, but Rennie outlined that current first-fives Lolesio, Donaldson and James O’Connor are all ahead of the 20-year-old in the race for the No 10 jersey.
Among the standout players from the Australian teams in the opening rounds of Super Rugby Pacific, Force halfback Issak Fines-Leleiwasa can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on selection to the older Lonergan brother.
Included for the mid-year tests against France and the Rugby Championship, Brumbies wing Andy Muirhead missed out Australia’s end-of-year tour side and hasn’t regained his place after having seemingly fallen behind Pulu on Rennie’s list.
Another Wallabies squad and still no sight of cross-code star Suliasi Vunivalu, who hasn’t played for the Reds this year because of his pesky hamstring injury. Rennie is still keen on the off-contract ex-NRL flyer, though, confirming that Vunivalu will join the camp for one of their three training days.
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