While Dave Rennie oozes confidence, credibility and now results, the announcement of the Wallabies’ squad to tour the northern hemisphere in the coming weeks is puzzling.
Are these selections the work of a genius, carefully plotting a fairytale of more redemption stories to add to the chapters of James Slipper, James O’Connor and more recently Pete Samu, Quade Cooper, Tom Robertson, Andrew Kellaway and to a lesser extent Greg Holmes?
Is Rennie seeking a mature squad like the English and South Africans have typically taken to the Rugby World Cup?
Or are these selections too short sighted, with a focus on wanting to win as much footy as possible in the short term to build credibility?
There are 12 players in this squad who come the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be over 30 years of age, the proverbial rugby hill: Rory Arnold, Quade Cooper, Jake Gordon, Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi, Tolu Latu, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Slipper, James O’Connor and Nic White.
As I read the squad, a song from Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson – called ‘Old Age and Treachery’ and about how those qualities “always overcomes youth and skill” – came into my head.
Will it be Dave Rennie’s golden army or will it become Dad’s Army? In Willie and Waylon’s words, will the tour prove that the “get up and go” of these dozen ageing Wallabies “has got up and gone”?
Fortunately, in the modern game there are eight – yes, more than half a team – of reserves, or should I say finishers.
While they are playing, there will be plenty of video referee referrals and fake injuries to allow so many two-minute drinks breaks that World Rugby may need to introduce a loo break. There is certainly less risk of a game of rugby breaking out amid this lack of attrition.
There is certainly a clear decision to bring in experience, regardless of whether the individuals have hung around in Australian rugby hoping to be rewarded, or have taken the opportunity to head off on a lucrative contract overseas.
It was unthinkable at the start of the Wallabies’ Test season this year that Will Skelton, Rory Arnold, Quade Cooper, Tolu Latu and Sean McMahon would all be named in this squad.
This is a contrast to the tradition of many national teams of resting at least some of their proven players and sending development squads on their off-season tour, as France did recently to Australia.
Rennie’s selection of so many players that either established Australian based players or former Wallabies now based overseas seems to be a statement that these players may be proven, but not necessarily to him.
Rennie seems to be his own man in this regard, making incumbent Michael Hooper earn his role as captain and discarding Harry Wilson and his apparent back-up number eight Isi Naisarani.
Equally surprising, the fountain of youth has, for now, run dry and players of the future, such as Harry Wilson, Noah Lolesio, Fraser McReight and even Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, have been left at home at home.
Their lot is to slog it out with the up-and-coming Super Rugby players, mindlessly completing a Super Rugby pre-season.
Starved of an NRC-type middle tier of rugby, was there not enough budget for a development tour, with the rest of the world moving on from the pandemic?
Only two players are under 23 years of age and both are regular Test team selections: Jordan Petaia at 21 years and 14 Tests and Angus Bell at 21 years and 12 Tests. Neither really count as development selections.
However, every squad needs a bolter or two and if there is one position that is not settled it is that of hooker.
I’m not sure there would be too many full-time Wallabies fans that would have even heard of Brumby Connal McInerney.
Not only has Latu been recalled from the wilderness but only Folau Fainga’a remains of the four or five hookers tried in the Wallabies this season.
With the Giteau Law, the idea of staying in Australian rugby to put the Wallabies’ jersey first is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Similarly, the coming of age of players such as Andrew Kellaway and Will Skelton after overseas stints is bringing under question the superiority of the Super Rugby competition and its ability to develop players to their potential.
Watch this space for the Super Rugby season, with the likes of Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan yet to add their own chapters to the redemption list. Liam Gill will follow.
The 12 and 15 jerseys selection will also be interesting to watch. Rennie and Taylor must have taken a good look at Irae Simone and are now focused elsewhere. Hunter Paisami may return to the number 12 jersey against Japan and Scotland, while Samu Kerevi’s ankle heals.
Alternatively it is likely that Rennie and Taylor may elect to answer questions regarding Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese at the next level, with Kerevi and Len Ikitau proven.
The case for Reece Hodge at inside centre would be more about the much-mooted experiment of Jordan Petaia at fullback. This may then require Hodge to return to the custodian role against the big boys, England and Wales.
The demise of the NRC, the Giteau law, an Australian national as coach, the game opening up as the 15 players that started the match become fatigued and mid-week games on tour are a thing of the past.
The giving away of a few cheap Test jerseys has become part of the rugby landscape.
All in all, this squad looks more like a safe bet from coaches needing to keep their jobs. This is far from the reality with Dave Rennie and his able assistant Matt Taylor having already proven their worth.
In a short time at the helm, they have taken the team to number three in the world rankings, including two scalps of the world champions, South Africa, a competitive Argentina and a very capable young French outfit.
Should Rennie – or should I say is Rennie – building to win the 2023 World Cup in France?