Wallaby coach's bombshell flyhalf decision
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Dave Rennie has thrown down the challenge to Reece Hodge to shed his tag as Australian rugby’s modern-day ‘Mr Fix It’ and cement his place as the Wallabies’ chief playmaker.
Rennie shocked many on Thursday when he named Hodge to start at flyhalf, replacing 20-year-old rookie Noah Lolesio, for Saturday’s Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup battle with the All Blacks in Brisbane.
The utility ace has played every position in Australia’s backline bar scrumhalf during his 42-Test career – but only once in the No.10 jumper.
He nailed nine conversions from nine attempts that afternoon in a 63-30 victory over Japan in Yokohoma and Rennie is confident Hodge’s boot – and experience – will also come in handy against the All Blacks.
A week after conceding Hodge’s versatility “probably” counted against him sealing a starting spot, the Wallabies coach said the 26-year-old now had the chance to prove flyhalf could be his best position.
“He’s got an impressive skill set – a big-kicking 10, a big goalkicker,” Rennie said.
“Because he’s played a lot in midfield, he defends very well and he’s a big man so he can carry.
“So probably not unlike the guy he’s going to mark on the weekend, Beauden Barrett, who tends to carry a lot of ball in that channel.
“So this is an opportunity. It was mentioned last week he’s been a jack of all trades and filled a lot of holes and maybe this is an opportunity to establish himself.”
Meanwhile, Rennie will blood his eighth and ninth Test debutants on Saturday.
Brumbies wing and former Manly NRL playmaker Tom Wright and Waratahs flank Lachie Swinton will start in the clash
Wright’s inclusion has forced Filipo Daugunu to the bench, while Swinton’s start has relegated his Waratahs teammate Ned Hanigan to a finisher’s role.
Swinton will form a dynamic and aggressive Wallabies back row with fellow emerging star Harry Wilson and 102-Test skipper Michael Hooper.
Barring a training injury, Wright and fellow 23-year-old Swinton will be the latest young talents Rennie has introduced to the international arena in 2020.
Wilson, flanker Fraser McReight and exciting backs Hunter Paisami, Irae Simone, Noah Lolesio, Daugunu and Tate McDermott have already made their Test debuts in the Bledisloe Cup cauldron this year.
Wallabies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Nic White, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lachie Swinton, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Liam Wright, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Filipo Daugunu.
Date: Saturday, November 7
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.45 (21.45 NZ time; 08.45 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe, Angus Gardner
TMO: Paul Williams