Dave Rennie has given the clearest indication yet of how he plans on ending Eddie Jones’ stranglehold over the Wallabies.
As Rennie prepares to unveil his first team of the year, it can be revealed he has turned to Cadeyrn Neville – the third oldest Wallabies debutant since WWII – to try and better England’s pack on Saturday at Perth’s Optus Stadium.
Having grown into his shoes under Dan McKellar’s tutelage, the 33-year-old lock will be tasked with taking the Brumbies’ rolling maul juggernaut and replicating it on the international stage.
Neville would have debuted two years ago were it not for injury, but given he will start in the crunch first Test of the year goes to show how respected he is within Wallabies circles.
Only John Holdworth (36 years, 288 days), who debuted in 1921, and Peter Buchanan (34yr, 163 days) two years later, were older when they debuted for the Wallabies than Neville (33yr, 235 days).
Interestingly, Tiaan Strauss was older (33yr, 349) but previously played for South Africa.
His elevation to the Wallabies run-on side comes as Dan McKellar, his long-time coach at the Brumbies, joins Rennie’s coaching staff on a full-time basis.
McKellar’s Brumbies came within one missed Noah Lolesio field goal from beating the Blues at Eden Park earlier this month to make the Super Rugby final.
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They clawed their way into the match off the back of a dominate rolling maul and, having given his secrets away to Jones’ former right-hand man Steve Borthwick in 2019, he now plans on deploying it on England.
“We’re trying to develop a mindset here of having the best maul in the world,” McKellar said.
“That takes time, there’s five groups of players that come from different franchises and they all do it differently, so the buy in and thirst for it has been obvious from my end.
“That genuine physicality and brutality in what we do.
“Playing with a real hard edge; you’re not going to win any game without and you certainly won’t win a Test match.”
No Wallabies side will ever lose its desire to use the ball, particularly one coached by Rennie who specialises in counterattacking rugby, but McKellar wants his skills to become a weapon.
“It’s just about mauling better, isn’t it?” he said.
“I was talking to a few players about it earlier, the reality is in Test match rugby games are often tight, so when the opportunity comes to take points you generally take the points whereas in Super Rugby bonus points over the course of the season.
“Opportunities in Test rugby are less, but when we do take them we’ve got to be better.
“Mauling’s one part of it, there’s a whole lot to being a good forward pack, but it’s an area that we’ve identified that can certainly make some shifts.”
Should, as expected, Taniela Tupou, be ruled out as he recovers from his calf injury, Neville will form a heavy Brumbies dominated Wallabies pack, with Rob Valetini to provide the go-forward to power Rennie’s side over the gain line.
It would also see Scott Sio be the fourth Brumbies front-rower included in the squad, with James Slipper likely to switch to the tight-head side and come off the bench with Allan Alaalatoa starting.
Folau Fainga’a, who re-signed with Rugby Australia earlier in the week, is also shaping as a starter particularly with Neville set to start.
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Neville could well start alongside his Brumbies teammate Darcy Swain in the second-row, with Matt Philip’s experience likely to see him earn on the bench ahead of the athletically gifted and young Nick Frost.
McKellar said Tupou was irreplaceable and admitted his absence would be a blow.
“He’s a point of difference player, he’s got a pretty unique skill-set Taniela,” McKellar said.
“He’s incredibly powerful at scrum time, but then he brings a point of difference in open play.
“If he’s not available on Saturday there’s no doubt he’ll be a loss, but injuries happen and you’ve got to push on and take confidence in the next person to do the role well.”
While Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi have garnered most of the headlines and will have to fire for the Wallabies to end their eight-match losing streak against England, it is in the forwards where the match will be won and lost.
McKellar said the Wallabies had to win the battle up front to stand a chance.
“You’ve got to take them on, haven’t you?” he said.
“You’ve got to understand that you can’t shy away from where the challenge is coming on, and we know that.
“It’s been part of English rugby DNA for forever and a day that set-piece and physicality and brutality is important, and it’s certainly going to be important for our pack.
“We know that for us to win this game we’ve got to win the collisions and we’ve got to look to dominate at set-piece. It’s as simple as that.
“They’re world class and it’s a real challenge for us. If we do that you give the likes of the players we have in the backline to really shine and dominate.”
Rennie will announce his match-day squad on Thursday afternoon.
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