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Dave Rennie on James O’Connor selection to play Argentina

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie admits James O’Connor’s durability remains a big question mark while outlining why he’s overlooked Noah Lolesio yet again.

Rennie named JOC as starting No.10 for the second Test against Argentina because he wanted some experience in the backline following the loss of Quade Cooper to an Achilles rupture, and Hunter Paisami through a concussion suffered in the first match last weekend.

O’Connor undoubtedly brings experience to the role and this is a big chance for him to re-establish himself with Australia’s No.10 stocks depleted and the coach not seeing Lolesio as a reliable starter in all situations.

WALLABIES TEAM: JOC gets redemption shot after ‘stinker’, Foketi’s first start, prop to debut

But O’Connor, 32, is showing signs of physical fragility including stints on the sidelines this year for knee and hamstring injuries. He was thrust into action off the bench against England in Brisbane and had a shocker, with only half a game for Brisbane club team Brothers since then.

“We talked about him needing to sharpen up and he’s been doing that over the past month,” Rennie said on Friday.

James O'Connor Wallabies

James O’Connor. (Photo by Getty Images)

“With Quade gone, no Hoops, no Allan [Alaalatoa], we were keen to get a bit of experience out there as well. He’s an important voice in amongst our backline. He’s prepared really well, really excited to get a crack, and keen to make the most of it.

“What we talked about was really around acceleration and sharpening up the skill set. Attitude-wise he has been brilliant. He couldn’t have been more supportive.

“It’s disappointing when players miss out but he’s had a clear picture of what he needed to do and was fully supportive of everyone else and helping them prepare well.”

Asked if O’Connor’s durability was a concern, Rennie replied: “Oh, of course, it is. But he’s earnt the right to play this weekend. Our thinking is he’ll go through to a World Cup but time will tell. He’s keen to get out there and prove that he’s got plenty more footy in him.”

Here’s everything Dave Rennie said in his pre-match press conference

On the issues surrounding the No.10 jersey

Asked if the No.10 was the biggest problem area for him to solve, Rennie replied: “I would say so. We’ve talked about No.2, we’ve talked about 10, 15, and second row for a while, but we’ve got pretty good depth there already with a couple of young guys coming through.

“At 15 Tom Wright has been excellent, we’ve used Jordie [Petaia], we’ve played [Andrew Kellaway] Kells there, played Reece Hodge there, got Kurtley Beale back, and Tom Banks on the injured list. We’ve generally got a lot of numbers back at 15. So yeah, that 10 is skinnier.”

On Lolesio’s reaction and what he needs to get better at

Rennie said the young Brumbies flyhalf was disappointed to be left out again having played all three Tests against England.

“We’ve communicated the areas that we want him to be better in,” Rennie said.

“He was disappointed with the third Test. He’s a good kid and he’s going to be an excellent international 10 and so he’s definitely working hard on growing his game.

“We talked about connection. It’s a strength of his game normally at the Brumbies.

“He probably wasn’t as sharp and he got deeper and deeper as the game went on [against England in Sydney], trying to buy himself some time.

“He’s the type of player who doesn’t have the leg speed of Beauden Barrett so he needs to be able to play flat, but still get himself in a position where he can run, kick, pass.

Noah Lolesio

Noah Lolesio. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“He is very good at challenging. There are areas that we want him to be better in but he’s played over a dozen Tests now and they’re all against top teams – the All Blacks,  French, English, South Africans. He’s played big games and will be better for that.”

On the development of 10s, and Bernard Foley rumours

While acknowledging No.10 is an area of concern, Rennie suggested the issue was being tackled.

“It’s something that we’re talking about and got some plans around,” said Rennie.

“We’ve got some good young kids coming through but not ready for this level yet. We get home and we’ve got South Africa to come, we’ve got the All Blacks two of the best sides in the world. It’s certainly an area of focus. We need to accelerate the development of our young 10s.”

On Friday a report in the Sydney Morning Herald suggested Bernard Foley would be joining the Wallabies camp when they return to Australia. Rennie said that suggestion was premature.

“We haven’t made a plan around that. Clearly, at the moment we’ve still got three guys with Hodgey covering and we’ll reassess when we get home, Rennie said.

“We haven’t even named the squad. We’ll get home and the thinking is by Wednesday, we’ll meet and we’ll pick the squad for South Africa.”

On the selection of Lalakai Foketi at No.12

The Waratahs centre will have his first Wallabies start and gain his second cap as he replaces Paisami. Paisami received a head knock in the first game and it wasn’t noticed at the time.

 “He had symptoms on Sunday, failed a cognitive test on Monday, and then again Tuesday which counted him out. He wasn’t far off. But in the end, the right decision,” said Rennie.

“It’s not too bad. It’s pretty minor but medically we’re ticking off boxes.”

Rennie was backing Foketi to carry on his good form from 2022 so far.

“La had his best season ever from a Super point of view,” said Rennie. “He’s a good athlete, good feet, has the ability to beat people through that, or ball transfer. He’s sharp. He’s as quick as I’ve seen him.

“He’s worked really hard on this defensive game and post tackle and his kicking is making good shifts. We’re excited. We contemplated playing [Irae Simone] because from a combination point of view, he and Lenny [Ikitau] have played a lot of footy together, but we genuinely believe that La is ready to go and has earned the right.”

The selection of Simone is an interesting one with the ex-Brumby heading to France later this year which impacts his chances of playing for the Test team beyond this TRC campaign. It indicates that Rennie is far from sold on Suli Vunivalu, who might have been of more long-term value on the bench against Argentina.

“We picked him based on who we thought could do the best job,” Rennie said. “He’s a very good communicator. He’s also had an excellent season for the Brumbies – his best since I’ve been here. He’s heading off to Clermont.

“It’s nice he’s going to be on the bench. He had two caps in the First Nations jersey so it’s fantastic he’ll get to play in a gold one.”

On the debut for Pone Fa’amausili, make up of second row, and Tate vs Jake (again)

“He’s missed a few opportunities,” Rennie said the Rebels’ giant prop, who is the only player in line for a debut this week. “We’ve had Al and Taniela out at different times but unfortunately Pone has been injured as well. He’s very excited. He’s a massive man.

“When Taniela comes off we’re going to replace him with someone of similar dimensions so he’s prepared well and excited and ready to go.”

Rennie said Rory Arnold had benefitted from the extra week off after missing the first game with a calf strain.

“He had a good training week. He did a lot of different things. Trained with us but not fully and we were able to get extra work into him. He looks good. He’s a big man, he’s experienced and so we’re looking forward to having him out there on Saturday.

“The nature of Test footy, at least for us at the moment, is there has been a number of injuries and different combinations. Guys work hard during the week to get that understanding and some of the guys, even if they’re not in the starting lineup form relationships with other guys because they train as the opposition. He’s a big target, a fantastic line out forward, very good maul and defensive maul.”

Arnold will partner Darcy Swain with Nick Frost preferred to Matt Philip on the bench.

“Darcy calls the line out very well, smart, his work rate was really good last week,” said Rennie. “He’s starting to bring a lot more physical presence and I thought he had a really big game last week.”

He said the Frost call was about “impact when you look at guys off the bench.

“Frosty’s an unbelievable athlete. As you saw late in the game last week, chasing a kick from Jordie down the middle of the field. He’s also a big man and got a massive upside.

“Matt Philip has been excellent for us. It’s just a chance to freshen them up a little bit and go with the young ball.”

Tate McDermott returns to the bench after Jake Gordon was used there in Mendoza. The pair are interchangeable under Rennie.

“It’s a toss of the coin, to be honest,” Rennie said.

“They’re different players but they’re both excellent. Everyone wants to play and Tate’s been training really well. Late in the game, he can be dynamic and his running game comes into play. And so there’s not much there and we’re sharing the load a little bit.”

On returning to a 5-3 bench split

Rennie opted for a 6-2 split in Mendoza for the first time as a Test coach and was on course to repeat that in San Juan only to change when Paisami was ruled out.

“We decided with James’ first start in a long time we decided we wanted a little bit more insurance in the back so it’s the five-three split,” said Rennie.

“We had Hodgey covering everywhere plus Tate, but we decided when Hunter was out and Lalakai came in that would get a bit more insurance around that, a midfield specialist and La and Hodgey can fill the 10 and back three and Tate can cover 9.”

Wallabies team to play Argentina at the Estadio del Bicentenario, San Juan on Sunday, August 14, 5:10am AEST

1. James Slipper (c) (118 Tests)

2. Folau Fainga’a (29 Tests)

3. Taniela Tupou (41 Tests)

4. Rory Arnold (29 Tests)

5. Darcy Swain (12 Tests)

6. Jed Holloway (1 Test)

7. Fraser McReight (3 Tests)

8. Rob Valetini (22 Tests)

9. Nic White (51 Tests)

10. James O’Connor (63 Tests)

11. Marika Koroibete (46 Tests)

12. Lalakai Foketi (1 Test)

13. Len Ikitau (16 Tests)

14. Jordan Petaia (19 Tests)

15. Tom Wright (13 Tests)


16. Lachlan Lonergan (5 Tests)

17. Matt Gibbon (1 Test)

18. Pone Fa’amausili*

19. Nick Frost (3 Tests)

20. Pete Samu (23 Tests)

21. Tate McDermott (16 Tests)

22. Irae Simone (2 Tests)

23. Reece Hodge (56 Tests)

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