Border restrictions limit Wallabies coach's options
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: The Wallabies have turned to former Queensland playmaker Duncan Paia’aua with coach Dave Rennie unable to call in any players from NSW or Victoria due to border restrictions.
Paia’aua, who played for the Reds for five seasons before moving to French club Toulon in 2019, has been called up to the 42-man Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship squad to add depth to the backline.
Rennie revealed that playmaker James O’Connor wouldn’t be available for the Bledisloe Cup series after re-injuring his groin at training during the recent French series.
Fresh off the Wallabies’ first home series win since 2014, Rennie named a largely similar squad to that which defeated France 2-1.
World Cup lock Izack Rodda, along with Western Force teammate and prop Tom Robertson, who last played for the Wallabies in 2018, have been recalled.
Paia’aua has only played once for the Wallabies – against the Barbarians in 2017 – with Rennie utilising the new Giteau Law dispensation which allows him to pick two players without the mandated 60 caps.
Rennie said the COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW and Victoria had “limited our options” in player selections.
“There is no chance of getting anyone out of those states to come in part way through this campaign so we’re looking at worst-case scenario and making sure we’ve got quality depth in all spots,” Rennie said.
The coach likened the 26-year-old Paia’aua to a Reece Hodge, offering utility value with his ability to cover a number of positions.
“I’ve spoken previously to Duncan about potentially coming home and playing Super Rugby and having a crack at the Wallabies,” Rennie said.
“He’s very versatile and covers a number of spots and so I guess it’s the chance for us to bring him in, and cast an eye over him.
“I’ve seen him play at fair bit of footy and he’s certainly a player capable of playing to this level.”
Rennie said that former Test centre Samu Kerevi might come into the reckoning for the Rugby Championship when his Olympic Sevens commitments were over.
Young Brumbies lock Nick Frost is the only player selected for the first time in a Wallabies squad, with his club teammate Pete Samu rejoining the group after a successful return from injury via club rugby.
Experienced Wallabies Nic White and Scott Sio have overcome knee and hamstring injuries respectively, along with centre/wing Jordan Petaia (quad).
The group assembled at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast on Sunday to prepare for the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland on August 7.
The Test schedule is set to be changed to play two Tests on consecutive weekends in New Zealand before the Perth Test on August 21.
They are due to fly out on Friday with the trans-Tasman travel border suspended for eight weeks from then.
Australia squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Banks, Angus Bell, Pone Fa’amausili, Lalakai Foketi, Nick Frost, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Michael Hooper (captain), Len Ikitau, Feleti Kaitu’u, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Rob Leota, Noah Lolesio, Lachlan Lonergan, Ryan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReight, Andy Muirhead, Isi Naisarani, James O’Connor, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Duncan Paia’aua, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Lachlan Swinton, Matt To’omua, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Harry Wilson, Tom Wright.