Tom the Wright option as Rennie weighs up fullback, flyhalf options

Fri, Nov 25, 2022, 4:10 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Wallabies faced off against the no.1 ranked Ireland side in Dublin.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has backed Tom Wright to step up at fullback with the position wide open heading into next year's World Cup.

Wright will start at the back for the third time in 2022, selected alongside Mark Nawaqanitawase and Jordan Petaia to face Wales on Sunday morning (Australian time).

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Rennie believes his communication was the deciding factor over Jock Campbell, with the Red returning via the bench as one of several changes from Ireland.

“We definitely discussed playing Jock (at fullback) but we just felt that if we played Jock, Mark (Nawaqanitawase) and Jordy (Petaia), there’s not a lot of voice there and that’s going to be really important," Rennie explained to reporters.

“We could have Tom the wing and then left one of the other guys out, but they were both excellent last week and we wanted to give them a chance to start together.

“Jock’s very much in the mix. It’s the modern game, he’ll make a contribution, but it’ll be off the bench.”

Wright slots in for Andrew Kellaway, who has returned to Australia with a foot injury as the 15 jersey remains a poisoned chalice of sorts for the Wallabies.

It started in the first 20 minutes of the International season with Tom Banks broke his arm against England, joined by Kellaway after he injured his hamstring in between the first two Tests

Jordan Petaia lasted four minutes in Brisbane before suffering a concussion whilst Wright and Reece Hodge filled in at the position throughout the Rugby Championship.

Rennie was very open about his assessment of the position. Whilst there are plenty of options, a true first-choice is yet to step up in his eyes.

“No,” he responded when asked if he knew his preferred fullback. “I think what we’ve found out this year because we’ve used a lot of 15s is we’ve got some genuine strong options here now. 

“We’ve played Andrew Kellaway there, we’ve played Tom Banks and Tom Wright. Jordy was down to play there at one stage. We’ve used (Reece) Hodgie back there, we’ve used Jock Campbell. 

“I think we’ve genuinely developed some really strong options back there, but as to who’s got the nod from a World Cup point of view, it’s pretty tight.”

It's a different scenario at flyhalf, with Rennie admitting he has a clear idea of who leads that race even if for now, he'll keep who it is close to his chest.

It comes as Ben Donaldson prepares to be the fifth flyhalf to start for the Wallabies this year (Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, James O'Connor, Noah Lolesio), preferred over Lolesio after the Brumby was an unused sub against the Irish.

Donaldson came on in the last five minutes of his debut against Italy, providing some nice touches before missing a tough game-winning conversion after the siren.

Rennie and the Wallabies are keen to get a further look at the Waratah, who has impressed with his speed and command of the backline.

As for Lolesio, consistency remains key for the young playmaker in Rennie's eyes.

“(Noah) wants to start…We talk about earning the right to start and earning the right to play. He’s played a lot of good footy for us in some big games but you’ve got to back that up consistently,” Rennie notes.

“He played well against South Africa, he got a head knock, couldn’t play the first Test against the All Blacks. Bernard (Foley) played really well and he gives a lot of voice and a lot of experience and that’s helped.

“So they’re areas where Noah is trying to develop: his game awareness, his ability to implement and run a game. It was not easy for him against Italy, we didn’t go that well in front of him.

“We could easily have started Noah but want to find out a bit more about ‘Donno.’ He’s training really well, he’s got points of difference and we want to see what that’s like under the blow torch."

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