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Suli must go ‘balls out’ to earn jersey, Eddie says Test is ‘practice for World Cup’, ABs’ ‘smack’ vow

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has made it clear that high profile rugby league recruit Suliasi Vunivalu is still a work in progress and needs to show more to come into the reckoning for a Test debut.

The former Melbourne Storm powerhouse was considered a shot of selection to face England on Saturday but again missed the cut despite several backline absences in the Wallabies ranks.

When Rennie added Vunivalu to the 35-man squad to prepare for the England series he made it clear it was to let Wallabies coaching staff have time to develop the Queensland Reds winger.

Rennie said the Wallabies have a clear program for Vunivalu “to accelerate his development and his learning.

“We know he’s a good athlete, we want to get him really sharp and running fast, quicker than what he’s shown at Super level, and (with) the confidence to run.

“He’s had a lot of hammy issues but he’s done a lot of strength work and we reckon he’s ready to fly. He’s got to convince us at training that he can go balls out. But he’s certainly growing his understanding, he’s getting around the park. We still feel the best place for him is here where we can get a lot of work into him.”

Rennie was more positive about the preparedness of Jordan Petaia to make an impact at in a crucial role, having named the Reds player at fullback for the first time in his Test career after injuries to Tom Banks and Andrew Kellaway.

“This is the best I’ve seen Jordy,” said Rennie. “Physically excellent, he’s in great shape, we’ve managed his load  a little bit knowing that last week was a big week and he had big minutes.

“But credit to him, he’s got himself in great shape.”

Rennie expects England to test Petaia out with high kicks, but is confident he can deal with the pressure.

“He’s one of the best in the game, so it gives us a lot of confidence back there,” said Rennie.

“if we can buy him some time to be able to catch and attack, he can 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’s getting his opportunity, so how good.

“We’ve lost a couple of guys; we would have started Kels at 15 this week and Jordy starting on the wing, but he’s played really well there for the Reds. I thought he was excellent last week off the bench. His work-rate’s really improved and he’s going to have to boss the game from back there.”

Jones looking to World Cup

While Rennie is clearly focussed on the immediate, rival coach Eddie Jones raised some eyebrows with his team selection for game two and insistence that the World Cup next year is paramount on his mind.

Jones has given debuts to Guy Porter and Tommy Freeman, as well as a first start to scrum half Jack van Poortvliet with three backline changes in reaction to the Perth defeat.

Porter, who was born in England but raised in Australia, comes into the side at No.13 to add punch and toughness with Joe Marchant dropped. The 21-year-olds Freeman and Van Poortvliet replace Joe Cokanasiga on the left wing and Danny Care at No.9.

England’s backline has five players with a combined 23 caps.

While the media might consider Jones a man under pressure to hold his job, his statements suggest otherwise.

“Everything is geared towards the World Cup. Always has been and always will be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t treat this game with the utmost respect,” Jones said.

“This game is the perfect practice for the World Cup and our focus is putting on our best performance. It’s a pressure game, isn’t it? Once you get to the quarter-final of the World Cup, they are all pressure games so it’s great practice for us. We’ve got 12 months to the World Cup so we’re developing a team to win the World Cup. But of course we are preparing for this game and taking this game with the utmost importance.”

As for the team selection, Jones added: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, there are plenty of opinions out there and there are a lot of people who are smarter than me, so if you want to listen to those people say it’s a gamble, it’s a gamble.

“If you want to listen to me, you’ll say it’s a judgment call, as selection always is. Is this the best team for this week? Are the players all ready? These are all questions and judgments we are making.”

Eddie Jones, the England head coach looks on in the warm up during the Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 05, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Eddie Jones. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

There was a moment of intense mirth in Jones’ media conference when he was asked about comments from Austrai’s self professed ‘coach whisperer’ Bradley Stubbs.

Stubbs, who said he had worked with Jones a England and helped them win the 2016 Six Nations title, claimed Jones had “gone soft” by ceding too much input to his players.

But Jones dismissed Stubbs’ comments with a withering: “Who is he? Who is he? I don’t know mate, you’ll have to tell me. “Ask him to come around and see me … I don’t know who you’re talking about mate.”

Jones’ approach has support from England’s captain Courtney Lawes.

“We think it’ll open up our potential and we’ll be a better team for it,” said Lawes. “We don’t feel this is the right time to be safe. We want to see what we can do as a team, what players will fit best where and try and paint a picture for things moving forward as well.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we win the series. But at the same time we’ve had the conversation. We’re making these changes for a reason. It’s going to take time and we are going to have to have patience. We’re going to go through ups and downs. But as long as we’re building towards an end product. That is the main thing.

“The performance is more important for us. Definitely. Everybody wants to see results now and that’s fine.

“We also understand everyone’s got their opinion. That’s fine. For us I would just say we’re doing our best. We’d absolutely love to win but developing as a team and taking us in the right direction is definitely at the forefront of our minds.”

‘Got to smack someone’

The All Blacks have had nine players wear the No.6 jersey n the past five years and Blues captain Dalton Papalii is keen to make a statement when he pulls it on against Ireland, with thoughts of taking a long term hold.

“In my opinion the six is more of the hit man so I’ve got to try smack someone early on,” Papalii said. “I’m going to try add my own flavour to the jersey.

“I haven’t played much at six this year but nothing really changes for me mentally or physically. All three loosies have different roles around the field but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I want to play my own game, add a twist to the six jersey and leave a bit of a legacy in that jersey.

“I’ve been following guys like Jerome Kaino growing up watching him, playing with him at the Blues and getting a few tips from him.

“This is an opportunity for me to put a stamp on the six jersey and leave my mark there.”

Wales make one change

Alex Cuthbert’s inclusion on the wing is the only change for Wales for their second rugby Test against South Africa on Saturday, in contrast to the home side who made 14 changes to their starting line-up for the clash in Bloemfontein.

Cuthbert comes in for Josh Adams, who is dropped to the bench after Wales lost 32-29 in a heart-breaking last-gasp defeat in last weekend’s first Test in Pretoria.

Front rower Sam Wainwright could be in line to make his Test debut from the bench as he is one of three changes among the replacements.

He comes in for Tomas Francis, who was sent home after suffering concussion some 30 seconds after coming on as a replacement in the first Test.

Wyn Jones replaces Rhys Carre and Adams takes the place of Owen Watkin.

“Alex Cuthbert has been training really well. He’s six foot four, good in the air and runs all day. I think there will be plenty of aerial battles,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac on Thursday.

“Sam Wainwright has been very excited to join us. From day one he’s been training really well. I know he’s over the moon at his selection in the match-day 23 and his family are over here so he’s looking forward to a big day.”

Pivac has steered clear of any judgement on South Africa’s wholesale team reshuffle, which former Welsh great Gareth Edwards described as disgraceful.

Pivac on Thursday carefully picked his way through questions at a news conference in Johannesburg about his opinion on the South Africa decision to use the second test to experiment with a largely new-look side.

“From our point of view, it’s a big focus on what we can improve from the last Test match.

“We are in a different part of the cycle; really we’re at the end of our season, they’re at the start of theirs. They’ll have their reasoning why they did it,” the Wales coach said.

“They’ve got depth and quality throughout the squad and some experience in this team. So we’re certainly not taking them lightly at all.

“There are players playing there with an opportunity to impress for the third test so we know they’ll come out strongly and represent their country like anyone else in that jersey. So for us, it’s around what we can control and that’s our performance,” Pivac added.

Earlier this week, Edwards told reporters: “The big disappointment for me was to learn South Africa are going to change virtually their whole team.

“They have got every right to prepare for the World Cup, but I would really like to know what their logic is in changing so many. I suppose the only way they can justify it is if they win. I think it shows a little bit of disrespect.

“I think they (the Wales players) are probably talking to each other and saying, ‘Right boys, that’s what they think of us’. I think it is great motivation for Wales,” he said.

South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber has defended his selection. “We’ll never choose a team we believe can’t win. I’ve said it many times before. This isn’t a platform for development,” he said on Tuesday.

“You have to perform. That’s the most important and only requirement. It will be tight because we’re facing a Wales team desperate to still win this series.” 

Team: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Louis Rees-Zammit, 13. George North, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Alex Cuthbert, 10. Dan Biggar (captain), 9. Kieran Hardy,  1. Gareth Thomas, 2. Ryan Elias,  3. Dillon Lewis, 4. Will Rowlands, 5. Adam Beard, 6. Dan Lydiate, 7. Tommy Reffell, 8. Taulupe Faletau. Res: 16. Dewi Lake , 17. Wyn Jones, 18. Sam Wainwright,, 19. Alun Wyn Jones,  20. Josh Navidi, 21. Tomos Williams,, 22. Gareth Anscombe, 23. Josh Adams. 

Scots change five

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made five changes for the second rugby Test against Michael Cheika’s Argentina in Salta.  

Hamish Watson will return from injury to win his 50th cap on Saturday as Scotland look to bounce back from a 26-18 first Test loss.

The flanker replaces Edinburgh team-mate Luke Crosbie.

Ben White replaces Ali Price at halfback to make his first start for Scotland. 

Dave Cherry, Sam Skinner and Rory Darge come into the pack, along with Watson.

Edinburgh hooker Cherry is back in the team for the first time since playing in all five of Scotland’s Six Nations games in 2021, as a straight swap for George Turner, who drops to the bench.

New Edinburgh signing Skinner replaces Jonny Gray and will wear the number four jersey alongside captain Grant Gilchrist in the second row.

Darge returned from injury off the bench in the first Test and will make his fourth start for Scotland, with the 22-year-old replacing Magnus Bradbury in the back row.

Bradbury, Crosbie and Gray drop out of Townsend’s match-day squad, while London Irish winger Kyle Rowe could make his debut from the bench.

(With agencies)

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