2022-06-30 06:33:00

For the first time since 2017, the Queensland Reds have only one player in the Wallabies’ squad to take on England on Saturday.

With Taniela Tupou only now returning to full fitness, Jordan Petaia is the sole Red in the squad and he will wear the No.23 jersey after Dave Rennie named a Brumbies dominated team to take on Eddie Jones’ side.

It goes to show the developing depth Rennie has at his disposal that Tom Wright and Tate McDermott were left out.

“There are a lot of challenging decisions which is good thing,” Rennie said on Thursday.

“We’ve talked about creating more depth and more competition for places, so that’s a positive.”

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Dave Rennie says the fact a number of quality players were left out shows the growing depth in Australian rugby. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Wright was Australia’s form winger for the Brumbies in 2022, but Andrew Kellaway’s breakout season last year saw him nab the right-wing spot.

McDermott, too, can feel a touch unfortunate to have missed out, with Jake Gordon preferred as Nic White’s deputy.

While those north of the border have been demanding Harry Wilson be named in the back-row, Rob Leota’s extra sting has been preferred instead.

Meanwhile, Noah Lolesio’s selection as Quade Cooper’s back-up raised some eyebrows, with Rennie revealing that O’Connor was not quite sharp enough after missing the backend of the Super Rugby season.

Here are our winners and losers from the first Test team selection.

WINNERS

Rob Leota

The Rebels’ slow start to the year meant many wrote off the Melbourne-based franchise and their players.

Injuries played a part in the Rebels’ terrible start, where they lost to the Fiji Drua and looked miles off the pace.

Leota’s return was instrumental in the Rebels earning back some respect.

He carried thunderously and the physicality and brutality he defends with is just what Dan McKellar was speaking about when he addressed reporters earlier in the week.

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Rob Leota’s hard edge has earned him selection for the first Test against England. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

While Reds fans will point to Wilson’s running lines, Leota has earned selection because he compliments the back-row.

Rob Valetini provides a strong running presence and while his line running might not be as strong as Wilson’s his brutality and leg drive sees him stampede over defenders.

Caderyn Neville

Perhaps the most surprising selection of the most, Neville fully deserves his spot but because he doesn’t do the sexy things is often looked past.

McKellar has always thought highly of the 33-year-old. It’s why the departing Brumbies coach lured him to Canberra home from Japan.

Neville provides the starch in the team.

More than that, he is another one of McKellar’s chargers who has been instrumental at the rolling maul.

Together with Darcy Swain, Valetini, and White at halfback, the continuity will be vital against England.

“I look at Nev at 33, but if you’ve seen him training, he’s a really good athlete,” Rennie said. “He can get around the park.

“He’s a big man 124-125kgs, so very important to us from a set piece point of view – very good at maul, lineout, scrum.

“From a perseverance point of view, it’s a great story.”

Noah Lolesio

One moment of madness meant Lolesio’s game was scrutinised against the Blues in the Super Rugby final.

But, his field goal attempt aside, the playmaker saved his best rugby for the trans-Tasman matches.

He led them to victories over the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Chiefs away. That’s no small feat.

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Noah Lolesio has been picked ahead of James O’Connor. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

When the Reds lost O’Connor they didn’t win a match, which goes to show the importance of the man wearing the No.10 jersey.

His selection over O’Connor, who was fit but lacked “sharpness”, goes to show the belief the Wallabies have in the developing playmaker.

The other aspect of his selection which is a positive one is it gets more minutes in the “future” at fly-half.

While the hope is both Cooper and O’Connor will make the World Cup, there’s every possibility their bodies could break down.

After all, O’Connor’s spent as much time on the sidelines as on the field in the past decade.

LOSERS

Tate McDermott

McDermott was fuming late in the Super Rugby season at his side’s late season slide.

After losing O’Connor and then Taniela Tupou, the Reds failed to win against New Zealand opposition.

The Reds’ poor form clearly hurt McDermott’s hopes for selection, where Waratahs captain Gordon has been preferred.

McDermott’s running threat is second to none in the country. His pace and threat around the ruck is a huge threat, but Rennie has opted for the older head and perhaps more rounded Gordon.

“It was tight. You would say that Jake and Whitey had excellent seasons,” Rennie said.

“Tate was good but I guess it was harder for him in the final couple of months against New Zealand sides where they struggled as a group.

“Whitey has been outstanding. Jake’s had a fantastic season. It’s a really highly competitive position. Tate’s trained really well put a lot of heat on but we wanted to reward form from Super Rugby.”

It’s likely O’Connor’s exclusion also influenced McDermott’s axing, too.

Tate McDermott was left out of the Wallabies despite his running threat and game-changing ability. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

James O’Connor

When Cooper withdrew from last year’s Spring Tour, O’Connor was thrust into the No.10 jersey but with the experienced back in the driver’s seat the Wallabies lost all three Tests in the United Kingdom.

It wasn’t necessarily O’Connor’s fault. He had just returned from injury and had spent little time in the saddle.

The Wallabies were also without Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, who had been two of the Wallabies’ best throughout The Rugby Championship.

But you get the feeling that lessons were learnt from the tour and selectors don’t want to rush O’Connor back from injury when he’s underdone.

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Head Coach Dave Rennie said James O’Connor is not yet “sharp enough” following his injuries. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

While O’Connor was probably going head to head with Lolesio, Rennie acknowledged last year the former outside back could feature at fullback and he could be an option in the position should Tom Banks struggle.

“We left James out of the mix, he’s not quite sharp enough yet,” Rennie said.

“Obviously, he’s missed a big chunk of the second part of the year, didn’t play many of the Kiwi games, and had two different injuries and while he’s back fit and available, he lacks a bit of sharpness around his skill set. Everything’s a lot quicker.”

Harry Wilson

The Reds No.8 is one of Australian rugby’s favourite young stars.

Ever since he burst onto the stage in 2020 fans have fallen in love with his work rate and line running.

But the devil is in the detail.

Rennie wants sting in the tackle, brutality, ruck hitting and a balanced back-row.

When Rennie previously coached the Chiefs, he played Liam Messam – a man known for his hard edge – at blindside flanker and brought Sam Cane off the bench.

Harry Wilson remains a fan favourite but is struggling to crack the Wallabies team. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

With Valetini in the starting side, Wilson will find it hard to break into the team particularly if Lachie Swinton returns from his shoulder injury.

“I thought Harry was excellent against the other Aussie sides but not the same impact against New Zealand sides,” Rennie said.

“There’s not much in it. Harry has worked really hard but Rob (Leota) gives us genuine go forward and carry, as does Bobby.

“They’re big men, good both sides of the ball. Wilso’s not far away. It wasn’t a straightforward decision. We had a lot of discussion around over a number of days.”

Tom Wright

While Suli Vunivalu could yet play before Wright does, the Brumbies outside back was brilliant in 2022.

It shows Australia’s depth that the finisher couldn’t break into the squad.

Another who will be frustrated to have missed out is Hunter Paisami.

The hard hitting Reds centre had another fine season and his all-round package is highly rated by England’s staff and pundits.

Paisami was superb in the final two Tests in the UK last year after losing his spot to Kerevi.

It is likely that an injury to either Kerevi or Len Ikitau would see Paisami return.

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Source by [graycupnews.com]

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