Bombs away. Dave Rennie knows the kicks are coming, so do his wingers and so do the fans who are snapping up tickets for this riveting Wallabies-England series.
Coach Rennie’s 35-man squad for the three Tests in July includes high-kick disposal experts and players who’ll run the ball back with interest.
Don’t fall for Rennie’s suggestion he has picked code-hopper Suliasi Vunivalu as a project so he can be used in The Rugby Championship in August-September.
He has Vunivalu in now because the winger is one of the best in the country for catching high kicks on defence and taking a quick step to go on offence.
He may see Test debut time in this England series.
His Super Rugby Pacific form in seven games for Queensland varied between invisible, uncertain, moments of brilliance and one high-class game against the Blues in Auckland.
He’s a weapon at his best and Rennie is determined to turn his “massive potential” into real X-factor by “accelerating his development within camp.”
Jordan Petaia is even more adept at getting up high to catch kicks and surging forward to put his team on attack.
Rennie is a step closer to gambling on him with some time as a Test fullback, even if not for a full 80 minutes.
He has picked in-form Brumby Tom Banks as the only specialist fullback in this squad which means Petaia and Andrew Kellaway are the other options.
Utility Reece Hodge had a dire Super Rugby season overall and dropped way too many kicks early in his Melbourne Rebels season. He turned over the ball 17 times in all. Mr Fix-It has paid for it with his spot in the squad.
A Banks-Kellaway-Marika Koroibete-Petaia quartet covering the back three as starters and subs for the first Test in Perth on July 2 is solid.
If Rennie gets it right, he’ll be on the way to doing what predecessor Michael Cheika never managed…a win over Eddie Jones and England.
Cheika’s 0-7 record against the England teams coached by old mate Jones pushed him to the exit door when the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Oita was a one-sided loss.
Harry Jones and Brett McKay are joined by NZ writer Jamie Wall to look at the crisis engulfing the All Blacks in the latest Roar Rugby Podcast. Stream it here or in your app of choice
Coach Rennie has thought long and hard about what the English are going to bring to July’s three Tests. There will be shades to the likely scripts but every one includes an aerial bombardment.
England put contestable kicks into the sky when they win Tests and they keep kicking that way when they are losing Tests. You can bank on England kicking 30 times or more every Test. They put boot to ball 34 times when losing their most recent Test to France in March.
“They are going to put a lot of ball in the air. To diffuse that and profit from that is going to be important,” Rennie said.
“We’ve spent so much time studying them. We know what’s coming. Our challenge is to deal with that and apply pressure ourselves.”
Noah Lolesio’s impatient late snap at field goal (charged down) from 40m in the wet in the Brumbies’ semi-final classic against the Blues probably decided one thing.
The superior decision-making of James O’Connor will be preferred on the bench behind ringmaster and top No.10 Quade Cooper.
The backrow is the other area for discussion.
The starting formation is a lock already with captain Michael Hooper, Rob Valetini and Rob Leota.
Leota made some big, forceful metres, tackled effectively and won some lineouts in six games for the Rebels after many Stan Sport viewers had given up on watching the worst performed of Australia’s teams.
The intrigue is how Rennie backs this up with maximum impact from the bench.
Those who have listened to Rennie’s comments over a few months now will realise he is hot for what Jed Holloway can offer.
This close to a World Cup, he can’t believe an uncapped, experienced and high-impact forward of more than 70 Super Rugby games has fallen into his hands with the best season of his career.
Right place, definitely right time. Holloway, 29, may be on the start of one of those runs like a Rob Egerton or Kellaway, who thought their chance was over.
“Jed is a big man with an excellent skillset. He’s a good athlete, he’s got an ability to break the line to create space for others and he does a lot of donkey work,” Rennie said.
The coach sizes up the 1.96m Holloway as a perfect switch hitter between No.6, No.8 and lock. He’s an excellent lineout jumper too which is essential in every non-front-row reserve for this series.
Rennie made sense too when he said that Fraser McReight’s absence from the 35 names didn’t mean he’d suddenly lost his mantle as Hooper’s understudy.
McReight played a few minutes in Auckland as his only Test time in 2021. You just don’t run with specialist No.7s on the bench.
McReight will be picked for Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji and will be match fit if anything befalls Hooper.
“(The more versatile) Pete Samu can give more cover (from the bench). If ‘Hoops’ goes down, we know we can bring McReight back,” Rennie said.
Overall, a strong squad and well selected.
Wallabies squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Banks, Angus Bell, Quade Cooper, Pone Fa’amausili, Folau Fainga’a, Nick Frost, Jake Gordon, Michael Hooper (c), Jed Holloway, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Rob Leota, Noah Lolesio, Lachlan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Cadeyrn Neville, James O’Connor, Hunter Paisami, Izaia Perese, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip, David Porecki, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Suliasi Vunivalu, Nic White, Harry Wilson, Tom Wright.