Rennie walking a fine line between series win and handshake agreement

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will tread a fine line on Thursday between a temptation to pick his strongest team for a series-deciding Test and an informal agreement with the Rugby Union Players’ Association to manage players’ workloads heading into a third match in 11 days.

By Wednesday evening, Rennie and fellow Wallabies selectors had not finalised their matchday 23 for Saturday’s third Test against France at Suncorp Stadium. They will wait until Thursday morning before assessing how players had pulled up from Tuesday’s 28-26 loss in Melbourne, six days after Australia’s 23-21 win in Brisbane.

Rugby Australia’s national head of athletic performance, Dean Benton, is in charge of managing player workloads, which take into account more than how minutes each played in the opening two Tests.

Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players’ Association debated earlier this year whether three Tests in 11 days was feasible. It was agreed to because France’s window of travel had to be extended due to a 14-day quarantine period at the beginning of their tour.

Both parties agreed that extra squad members would join the Wallabies during the series but the Herald has been told by sources with knowledge of negotiations there was never any formal agreement for players to be rested depending on their workloads.

Dave Rennie with Reece Hodge before Tuesday’s Test in Melbourne. Credit:Getty

Six of the 23 Australian players used so far have played every minute of the first two Tests – Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Noah Lolesio, Marika Koroibete and Tom Banks.

There is nothing stopping Rennie from picking all six for Saturday’s match but the Wallabies boss has already hinted that won’t be the case.

“We’ve got guys who have really been scrapping for an opportunity and deserve a crack,” Rennie said after Tuesday’s loss. “We want to see a response from those guys coming in. They will be fresh and full of beans and give us some key energy. Four days to wait for redemption, it’s ideal.”

Rennie has cover in key positions but with playmaker James O’Connor set to be ruled out for the third Test in a row due to a groin injury, according to Wallabies officials, rookie No.10 Lolesio could start again.

James O’Connor is unlikely to be named for the Wallabies on Thursday for the weekend’s final Test.Credit:Getty

Reece Hodge has been linked to a recall after time off due to injury but would be more likely to start at fullback before possibly shifting to No.10 later in the game.

Replacement Darcy Swain (42 minutes) is in the frame to replace Salakaia-Loto in the second row, while Lachlan Swinton and Isi Naisarani (25 minutes) could be parachuted into Australia’s XV if Rennie wants to give Valetini (160 minutes) and Harry Wilson (135 minutes) a rest.

Other potential inclusions in the starting XV could be that of halfback Tate McDermott (44 minutes) in place of Jake Gordon (116 minutes), plus Andrew Kellaway (36 minutes) on one of Australia’s wings if Koroibete (160 minutes) and Tom Wright (124 minutes) need a break.

Four-day breaks are not unheard of, with World Cups often seeing games played close together, but are rare in series between two tier-one nations.

Meanwhile, former Wallaby Morgan Turinui has questioned whether there needs to be greater alignment between the Wallabies and Super Rugby teams after a fitness focus during Wallabies camp in recent weeks.

“We’ve heard a lot about getting them physically prepared for Test footy,” Turinui said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven program. “If they’re not ready in July, where is this alignment that we hear about in Australian rugby from the Super teams into the Wallaby teams? No player should turn up in July not ready to play Test footy.

“Turn up in January well tanned and out of conditions as much as you like, you’ve got plenty of time to get fit. If our Super Rugby teams aren’t delivering players ready for Test rugby, that is a huge problem.

“This Wallaby team should have three weeks to really work on the detail, to work on set-piece, to work on attacking phase and structure and shapes and get the defensive connection right.”

Asked by host Nick McArdle where the responsibility lay, Turinui said: “We’ve got our high performance [unit], our national people in charge. [Director of rugby] Scott Johnson, great CV within the game. Dean Benton, great CV in terms of performance. They need to sit over the top of our Super Rugby coaches and our Super Rugby conditioning staff and make sure alignment isn’t a buzzword.”

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