As Dave Rennie exudes confidence, credibility and now results, the Wallabies’ announcement of a Northern Hemisphere tour in the coming weeks is puzzling.
Are these selections the work of a genius, carefully plotting a fairy tale of other redemption stories to add to chapters by James Slipper, James O’Connor and most recently Pete Samu, Quade Cooper, Tom Robertson, Andrew Kellaway and to a lesser extent Greg Holmes?
Is Rennie looking for a mature team like the English and South Africans have typically competed in the Rugby World Cup?
Or are these selections too short-sighted, with a goal of winning as much football as possible in the short term to build credibility?
There are 12 players in this team who come Rugby World Cup 2023 will be over 30, the proverbial rugby hill: Rory Arnold, Quade Cooper, Jake Gordon, Michael Hooper, Samu Kerevi, Tolu Latu, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Slipper, James O’Connor and Nic White.
As I read the team, a song by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson – titled “Old Age and Treachery” and about how those qualities “always surpass youth and skill” – came to my mind.
Will it be Dave Rennie’s Golden Army or will it become Daddy’s Army? In the words of Willie and Waylon, will the tour prove that the “get up and go” of those dozen aging wallabies “got up and gone”?
Fortunately, in the modern game there are eight – yes, over half a team – reserves, or should I say finishers.
While they are playing there will be plenty of video referee referrals and fake injuries to allow for as many two-minute drink breaks that World Rugby may need to introduce a toilet break. There is certainly less chance of a rugby game breaking out amidst this lack of attrition.
There is certainly a clear decision to bring in experience, whether the individuals have hung out in Aussie rugby hoping to be rewarded or whether they have taken the opportunity to leave with a lucrative contract at the foreigner.
It was unthinkable at the start of the Wallabies’ Test season this year that Will Skelton, Rory Arnold, Quade Cooper, Tolu Latu and Sean McMahon would all be named to this squad.
This contrasts with the tradition of many national teams of leaving at least some of their proven players and sending development teams on their off-season tour, as France recently did in Australia.
Rennie’s pick of so many players who established Australia-based players or former wallabies now based overseas seems to be a statement that these players can be proven, but not necessarily for him.
Rennie appears to be his own man in this regard, causing titular Michael Hooper to earn his role as captain and dismiss Harry Wilson and his apparent backup number eight Isi Naisarani.
Equally surprising, the fountain of youth is, for the moment, dry and the players of the future, like Harry Wilson, Noah Lolesio, Fraser McReight or Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, have stayed at home.
Their lot is to face off against promising Super Rugby players, unconsciously completing a Super Rugby preseason.
Deprived of an intermediate level of rugby at the NRC, wasn’t there enough budget for a development tour, with the rest of the world emerging from the pandemic?
Only two players are under 23 and both are regular selections of the Test team: Jordan Petaia at 21 and 14 Tests and Angus Bell at 21 and 12 Tests. Neither really counts as development selections.
However, every squad needs a bolter or two and if there is one position that is unresolved, it’s hooker.
I’m not sure there would be too many full-time Wallabies fans who’ve even heard of Brumby Connal McInerney.
Not only has Latu been called back from the wild, but only Folau Fainga’a remains of the four or five prostitutes tried at the Wallabies this season.
With the Giteau law, the idea of staying in Australian rugby to put the Wallabies jersey first is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Likewise, the maturity of players such as Andrew Kellaway and Will Skelton after stays abroad calls into question the superiority of Super Rugby competition and its ability to develop players to their potential.
Check out this space for the Super Rugby season, with Jed Holloway and Ned Hanigan yet to add their own chapters to the buy-back list. Liam Gill will follow.
The selection of 12 and 15 jerseys will also be interesting to watch. Rennie and Taylor must have had a good look at Irae Simone and are now focusing elsewhere. Hunter Paisami could return in jersey number 12 against Japan and Scotland, while Samu Kerevi’s ankle heals.
Alternatively, it’s likely that Rennie and Taylor could choose to answer questions regarding Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese at the next level, with Kerevi and Len Ikitau proven.
Reece Hodge’s case in the inner center would be more about Jordan Petaia’s much-discussed experience at the back. This may then force Hodge to resume his role as goalkeeper against the Big Boys, England and Wales.
The demise of the NRC, the Giteau Law, an Australian national as a coach, the game that opens as the 15 players who started the game get tired and the midweek matches on tour are a thing of the past.
The distribution of a few inexpensive test jerseys is now part of the rugby landscape.
Overall, this team is more like a sure bet for coaches who need to keep their jobs. This is far from reality with Dave Rennie and his assistant Matt Taylor having already proven themselves.
In a short time at the helm, they took the team to third place in the world rankings, including two scalps of world champions, South Africa, a competitive Argentina and a very competent young French team.
Should Rennie – or should I say is Rennie – building to win the 2023 World Cup in France?