The Wallabies may have been forced to make five changes to their run-on side ahead of Saturday’s second Test against England, but Dave Rennie expects his side to be “better” after dipping their toes in the water last weekend.
Despite their drought-breaking 30-28 win over Eddie Jones’ side, Rennie was far from impressed with their effort in the first half as they went into the break 6-6.
He was particularly disappointed by their inability to win the ‘foul area’ against England, who failed to take advantage of field area and possession.
In the end, the Wallabies took a famous 14-man win after Darcy Swain’s red card in the first half, but the costs were high.
Although Swain will miss the next two weeks due to his headbutt moment in the “red fog”, four members of the starting squad have been excluded.
Fullback Tom Banks (arm), outside back Andrew Kellaway (hamstring) and tight head prop Allan Alaalatoa (concussion) were all known to be banned, but off center Len Ikitau (calf pain) also had a streak through his name.
But as a sign of their growing depth, Rennie brushed aside concerns that there would be teething problems when he brought in Taniela Tupou to load up their front pack. Matt Philip also takes the second row for Swain, with Nick Frost lining up to make his debut from the bench.
At the back, Jordan Petaia’s desire to play as a fullback was granted, while Tom Banks’ form and versatility chose him for Suliasi Vunivalu on the right wing. Izaia Perese, meanwhile, joins Jake Gordon and James O’Connor as backup replacements,
The final replacement is off center, where Rennie confirmed Ikitau had been painfully tucked up, but at least considered playing Hunter Paisami over the Brumby.
“I wouldn’t say hugely disruptive,” Rennie said.
“I’ve talked about the fact that we have a lot more depth than we did a few years ago and it’s an opportunity to highlight that.”
Front and center of the rising depth is Paisami.
The hard hitting Reds center would be the perfect number 12 for Jones in the absence of Manu Tuilagi, but with Samu Kerevi in his career best form, he was shut out last weekend.
With Ikitau out, Rennie didn’t think twice about recalling the versatile midfielder, especially after he topped the Wallabies at Twickenham during their loss last November.
“We considered bringing him in anyway,” Rennie said. “He’s putting pressure on.
“What he has is a really good set of skills. He kicks with both feet, hits hard, carries hard and I thought he was excellent against England at Twickenham last year and that’s the kind of performance we’re looking forward to.” be missing.
“He is a good player who has now played a dozen Tests and we are very fortunate to have that quality player to replace Lenny.”
Wright is also another example of that increasing depth, as he too was left out.
But injuries to Banks and Kellaway have opened the door, with the stylish finisher being preferred over Vunivalu.
“He’s got a great work ethic, Tom,” Rennie said.
“Smart, understands the game, good communicator; he was unlucky to miss the last test and that was the good thing;
“I have no doubt that Suli will ever get a tear.”
Petaia can expect Jones’s side to try and exploit the 22-year-old’s rawness in the position, with the insane talent being used all over the back line since his debut in Super Rugby as a 17-year-old.
But Rennie said Petaia was in the “best” physical shape of his young career, adding that his air skills and strong counter-attack were a point of difference.
“He’s one of the best in the game (in the air), so it gives us a lot of confidence there,” said Rennie.
“If we can give him some time to catch and attack, he could be a real handful.
“He’s excited. He’s said he wants to be a fullback and he wants to play Test rugby in the 15 jersey and he’ll get his chance, so how good.”
Rennie expects the England side of Jones to keep trying to get under the skin of the Wallabies, which they succeeded to some extent by pushing Swain into a rash decision in Perth last weekend.
He also expects England to return to what they know, rather than try to play rugby, despite some late success chasing the game.
“History will say they are willing to kick a ball and strangle us,” he said.
“What we saw was when they got quite a bit behind the scoreboard, they played and finished pretty strong. We are ready for all those things.
“We know we have to come forward from a fixed point of view to try and nullify their ability up front.
“We have to be much better around our collision with or without the ball; in the first half our tackle dominance was about four percent, the second half was 22, so a much better effort in the second half.
Wallaby’s team (15-1): Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Leota, Cadeyrn Neville, Matt Philip, Taniela Tupou, David Porecki, Angus Bell
Sailing, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Nick Frost*, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, James O’Connor, Izaia Perese