Video: Wallabies coach Rennie's biggest concern
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Coach Dave Rennie appears resigned to losing his best player, Marika Koroibete, with cashed-up overseas competitions increasingly the biggest threat to the success of the Wallabies.
The Melbourne Rebels flyer can command more than $1 million a year playing overseas and is expected to quit Australian rugby at the end of 2021 when his contract is up.
Rennie said he’d love to keep Koroibete, who had gone from strength to strength in the past 12 months and is now a global star.
“I agree, he’s been fantastic, phenomenal,” Rennie said.
“There’s been a couple of games he’s played this year where he’s been the best player on the field and you’ve only got to reflect back to the Bledisloe Cup game in Brisbane, he was sensational that day.
“We’d love to keep him but that’s the challenges we face.”
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Rennie ruled out making changes to eligibility that would allow him to pick overseas-based players such as Koroibete, saying it would hurt the Super Rugby AU competition.
He said the Japanese Top League threatened Australian rugby because they were also were targeting young players and those outside of the Wallabies with astronomical money.
Rugby Australia, which is just getting back on its feet after COVID-19, doesn’t have the financial resources to compete.
“The Japan market is just going berserk, it’s not just the elite but some fringe guys – guys who would be battling away in Super Rugby over here can earn three or four times what they would be paid.
“That’s why, I guess, we’ve got to make the Wallaby jersey something the guys are desperate to get.
“So, whether we can afford to hang on to guys like Marika, that’s the question.
“Through COVID, there’s less resource around and as contracts are coming through, the guys are getting less, not more.”
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The Wallabies will name a 40-man squad on Sunday for an April training camp ahead of a three-Test series against France in July.
Rennie said the selection would provide a glimpse into who could be in the Test line-up come the next World Cup in 2023, which is in France.
“We’ve had a lot of meetings and planning and we’ve picked a team for 2023 World Cup and so on, so we’ve tried to crystal ball gaze around who might play, so there’ll be two or three or four guys playing who haven’t played for us yet,” Rennie said.
“We’re certainly trying to get an understanding of who we think might be in mix and then the idea would be to bring them in earlier and blood them over the next few years.”
He said he could see the growth in former rugby league star winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who had his best game for Queensland last round after switching codes this year.
“He’s getting better and better and he was a really handful last week,” Rennie said.
“As you know, he’s a really good athlete and he’s learning.
“He’s been caught out a couple of times defending as you would in league, but he’s a smart man and he’s certainly making an impact.”