‘Light a fire’: Rennie looking to spark competition in O’Connor, Vunivalu ahead of World Cup

Mon, Jan 9, 2023, 11:02 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Wallabies travelled to Cardiff for their final Spring Tour match of 2022.

Dave Rennie is looking for Reds duo James O'Connor and Suliasi Vunivalu to push their way into contention via Super Rugby as the Wallabies begin preparations for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Rennie has assembled a 44-player squad on the Gold Coast for the week, with the high-profile backs the major omissions.

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“It’s the advantage of a lot of injuries I guess, we’ve used a lot of players last year and there’s more competition for places now which is really good," he told reporters

“We’ve got a couple of guys who would normally be in Japan recovering from long term injuries so it’s nice to have Quade and Samu in here.

“…It’s a massive year, it’s exciting. We’re going to light a fire over the next couple of days and work hard that we head up north in the best possible condition to play our best footy over the last four years.”

O'Connor was one of five flyhalves selected to start in 2022, however, found himself dropped from the squad altogether after a thumping defeat in Argentina.

An ankle injury ended his season early, with Rennie impressed with how the 32-year-old has applied himself to rehab.

“I had a good chat to ‘Rabs’ prior to us announcing the team," he revealed. "He’s come back from injury, back training fully and actually in really good nick running quicker than we’ve seen over the past couple of years.

“He looks sharper so his focus is playing good Super Rugby and putting pressure on us to select him in the camp in April. That’s the message we’ve given to a number of fringe players."

As for Vunivalu, Rennie pointed to the importance of providing the repeat efforts that have helped the likes of Nark Nawaqanitawase break out at Test level.

“Suli has got really clear messages,” he explained. 

“We need to see him run fast. We need to see him open up and repeat of speed efforts. We know his ability aerially is excellent. He needs to put in good performances at Super (Rugby) level. He had a couple of runs with Australia A and needs to build on it.

"What we saw from Mark Nawaqanitawase is a man who’s equally good (as Vunivalu) aerially, but is good all over the park. His speed and repeat speed was excellent as was his post-tackle work and his defensive work

“He grabbed his opportunity and played the best three games of his life at Test level. The challenge for him now is to make sure that he comes in and wants to be better. That’s the message he’ll get over the next couple of days.”

The Wallabies boss also confirmed Taniela Tupou was unlikely to feature in Super Rugby Pacific, with the priority maximising his game-time heading into the Rugby Championship.

“We’ll take over his recovery. He’ll still have a role to play at the Reds but not on the playing field," Rennie added.

“…The first avenue (for his return) will be club Rugby, which I’m sure will excite Brothers. We plan on having a couple of Australia A games potentially. We’re just looking for the chance to get some footy into him.

“Hopefully he recovers a little quicker and he can play the back end of Super Rugby.”

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