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Vunivalu set to be dropped for Brumbies clash as Reds recall off-contract Wallabies star

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26th March, 2024
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He was one of Eddie Jones’ main pet projects in 2023, but Suliasi Vunivalu’s teething issues in rugby have continued with the Wallabies winger left out of the Reds’ starting side for Saturday night’s Australian Super Rugby derby against the Brumbies in Brisbane.

The Roar can reveal Vunivalu will be rotated out of the side, with off-contract outside back weapon Jordan Petaia to feature on the right wing and Jock Campbell to start at fullback.

Vunivalu might have shown some improvement over the past 12 months, but the 28-year-old’s understanding of the game continues to be one of his major weaknesses.

As well as being beaten on the outside in defence on a couple of occasions in recent weeks, the World Cup squad member has turned the ball over too much inside his half when trying to conjure something up from broken defence.

Even last week during the Reds’ 40-31 loss to the Force, Vunivalu had the ball ripped away after searching for space in the middle. It left Tate McDermott frustrated at the simple possession turned over.

The Reds will put his absence down in part to workload management, but the cold hard truth is Mac Grealy has continued to impress with his impressive work rate and desire to get stuck in and do the basics well.

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Vunivalu was one of the surprise selections in last year’s World Cup, but he will have a harder time impressing Joe Schmidt because the new Wallabies coach is all about work rate, doing the basics well and decision-making.

Suliasi Vunivalu has been left out of the Reds’ side to take on the Brumbies in Brisbane. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The match is a big one for Wallabies outside backs Petaia and Campbell, with both players off contract and assessing their next move.

Petaia, particularly, is considering leaving the Reds at season’s end and news of Max Jorgensen’s handsome offer by Rugby Australia will have raised his eyebrows about where the governing body values the two-time World Cup member, who extraordinarily just turned 24.

It’s believed Les Kiss will name Josh Flook at outside centre despite the midfielder being forced off with a head knock last week.

Otherwise the Reds’ backline is likely to be settled, with Tom Lynagh once again to wear the No.10 jersey.

Jordan Petaia of Australia looks dejected at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Fiji at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on September 17, 2023 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Jordan Petaia’s future in Australia rugby beyond 2024 remains in doubt. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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There could be a change up front too, with Zane Nonggorr to come off the bench after a taxing five weeks where he’s started every match.

The young Wallaby might have tree trunk thighs, but at 22 he is still in his infancy as a professional front-rower.

Plus, with Jeffery Toomaga-Allen making his way back via the bench in recent weeks, Kiss has an experienced international to be able to call on as the Reds pack down against James Slipper’s Brumbies.

After last week’s shock loss, the Reds will take on the Brumbies who rediscovered their mojo against Moana Pasifika by putting 60 points on their opponents.

Brumbies back-rower Luke Reimer told The Roar Rugby podcast he thought the side rediscovered some confidence after a clunky start to the year.

“It definitely felt like we clicked on the weekend and our combinations really went well,” he said.

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“I thought we were on the same page whereas a few games previous we were a bit individual.”

The Reds will name their team at 2pm AEDT.

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