He’s honoured by comparisons to Adam Ashley-Cooper but utility ace Reece Hodge craves a return to the Wallabies starting line-up, and it could happen this Saturday night.
After being a regular in Australia’s starting XV since debuting in 2016, Hodge has come off the bench in the first three Bledisloe Cup clashes with the All Blacks.
But the 26-year-old looms as a serious option to replace either inside centre Irae Simone or winger Filipo Daugunu for this week’s final trans-Tasman test of the year at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has conceded that Hodge’s versatility “probably” counted against him when considered for a starting role.
But with Rennie likely to add some much-needed experience to the backline in pursuit of a face-saving victory over the All Blacks, Hodge is a frontrunner for inclusion.
“The great thing about Reece is he covers the whole backline bar nine. So he gives us genuine versatility there,” Rennie said.
“He’s a big man, he’s got a very good kicking game. We’ve been really impressed with his ability to square up the attack.”
Hodge has started in 30 of his 41 tests and proved with his near-60-metre shot that hit the upright in Wellington that he can also handle goalkicking duties.
“Obviously anyone in the whole squad here would love to be starting against the All Blacks. They’ve been the best team in the world for a number of years now,” he told AAP.
“In saying that, any time you get the chance to pull on a Wallabies jersey, whether it’s No.1 or No.23, you’d jump at it. It’s such a privilege to represent your family and everyone else in Australia in that jersey.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I’m not going to push for a starting berth, like everyone else in the squad would.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 1, 2020
Having worn the numbers 15, 14, 13, 12, 11 and 10 for the Wallabies, it’s little wonder he’s become Australia’s Mr Fix It, a tag Ashley-Cooper wore for 121 tests.
“It’s not the worst comparison,” he said.
“He’s obviously a 100-test Wallaby, four World Cups and had a pretty impressive career and someone I definitely looked up to when I was coming through when I was younger.
“I definitely wouldn’t mind being compared to ‘Swoop’.”
Rennie will name his team on Thursday, with the match doubling as the second game of the Tri Nations tournament, meaning the Wallabies must win to retain any hope of landing some silverware in 2020.
Lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto needed scans for an ankle injury but the Wallabies on Monday were hopeful he’d be fit for selection.
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