Rennie backs rookies as Wallabies battle worrying injury toll
SPOTLIGHT: Dave Rennie will have no hesitation backing his youth policy once again as the Wallabies battle a worrying injury toll heading into next month’s three-Test series with France.
With Nic White already ruled out, fellow scrumhalf Jake Gordon racing the clock with a similar MCL injury and veteran playmakers James O’Connor (groin) and Matt Toomua (neck) under fitness clouds, the Wallabies could be missing more than 150 caps in experience for the opening Test in Sydney on July 7.
Rennie remains hopeful O’Connor and Toomua will be available for selection and says Gordon could also be in the mix but won’t risk any of the trio if not 100 percent right.
“We’ve got some pretty positive news around Jake Gordon. He’s in camp recovering really well,” Rennie said on Thursday.
“He was in line to be back for the second Test and he’s pushing to be potentially back for the first one.
“But we’re not going to rush that so we’re not pushing the panic button yet.
“And we’ll know a bit more by the end of the weekend, how Matt returns and how James recovers.
“Obviously neither of them have done a lot of training with us and we’ve had big days, got through a hell of a lot of detail with some good young men in this group too who will be applying pressure for selections.
“So we’ve got to plan to be without them.”
It seems more than likely Rennie will hand Tate McDermott his starting debut after the Queensland Reds livewire earned two caps off the bench last year.
But he isn’t ruling out Brumbies No.9 Ryan Lonergan from starting either alongside his ACT teammate Noah Lolesio at flyhalf, should neither O’Connor or Toomua be ready.
“He’s a good player, isn’t he [Lonergan], and he’s played in some big moments with the Brumbies and we’re really confident with his skill set,” Rennie said.
“He’s a smart kid and it’s been good having him in this environment. Obviously we brought him in as cover for Jake’s injury and we’re hanging on to him, especially with Whitey’s injury, and he’s going really well.”
Rennie said Lonergan, 23, was definitely a starting “possibility” but selectors were leaning towards 22-year-old McDermott.
“Tate’s got an excellent running game and I guess that’s a stand-out,” the Wallabies coach said.
“He’s been working really hard on his core skill sets around his pass and his kicking game, his kicking game in particular.
“He’s had a big season. He’s very confident in his communication and his ability to bark and challenge the big guys around him has really developed over the last 12 months so we’ve got a couple of good options there.”
Rennie, who blooded 10 Test rookies during his first season at the helm last year, isn’t buying into the theory that the French are fielding a so-called C team in the absence of many of their own experienced players.
“It’s a very strong squad that they’re bringing over,” he said.
“Maybe not household names to this part of the world but they’ve got amazing depth in France.”