Everything Dave Rennie said about Foley return, White and McReight demotions, AB selection
Wallabies manager Dave Rennie named eight changes for the Bledisloe Cup opener against New Zealand in Melbourne on Thursday and backed Bernard Foley to make an impact in his first Test in three years.
Rennie explained his decision to bring in Foley and partner him with Jake Gordon in halftime, and why he relegated Nic White to the bench.
The Wallabies have been visited by key members of Australia’s last side to lift the Cup – in 2002 – as they try to find a possible advantage in the battle against the All Blacks, who named a powerful team on Tuesday.
The All Blacks and Australia have struggled for consistency this season, but the Kiwis came alive with a 53-3 win over Argentina.
“I think anything that happened before Thursday matters little,” Rennie said. “It will be our ability to give our best and we know we have to be at our best to have a chance against the All Blacks – or to have a chance against anyone this year.
“We are confident we can knock anyone down, but we have to play our best and force the All Blacks to be below their best.”
Here’s what Dave Rennie said at Tuesday’s press conference
By making eight changes
Rennie said at least four substitutions were forced on him, with Noah Lolesio and Hunter Paisami unable to recover from blows to the head in time. Taniela Tupou is out with a calf injury that kept her out of action in Sydney against South Africa, while Rory Arnold has left the team to move to Japan.
“That’s the problem with playing a test on Thursday – it took Hunter and Noah a few days less to recover from the head shots and so they’re both out,” Rennie said… “others, we made changes based on form and quality performance on the bench.
He said Lolesio and Paisami would have been in contention had the match been played on Saturday instead of two days earlier.
“We had to exclude them last Friday. Because once they go six days with still symptoms, that’s it,” Rennie said. “[A Saturday Test] would have given them until Monday to make a decision around them.
He said he was confident he could salvage Tupou for the return leg on September 24 in Auckland.
When Foley returns
“Noah is not good and we would have liked to stay with him and have some continuity,” admitted Rennie. “But it’s fantastic to have Bernard as an option. He did very well, understood things quickly. He was excellent last week leading the opposing team and he’s settled in really well – he’s an experienced voice. The transition has been good and he is ready to go.
Rennie said he was hoping for a similar impact to what Quade Cooper provided against South Africa 12 months ago.
“It’s a pretty similar situation because you remember Quade came and watched all the All Black Tests from the stands before he had his chance against the South Africans,” Rennie said.
“Bernard was able to do the same kind of things. Get into the mix, understand it and contribute a lot. They are very similar characters – . an impressive and fantastic work ethic, a massive contribution off the field around meetings and a very good tactical understanding.
“It was great to have it and I can’t wait to see him put it in the park on Thursday.”
Why he went with Gordon instead of White
Nic White has come under a lot of criticism for his kicking game especially against the Springboks.
“I think Whitey wasn’t at his best last week,” Rennie said. “He’s started all of Testing this year and had a huge load. I thought Jake was great off the bench last week so he has a deserved chance to start.
On Fraser McReight’s demotion to No. 7
Rennie has long been a fan of using Pete Samu on the bench, but the Brumbies backrower gets a rare start with McReight on the pin.
“It has a bit to do with collisions,” Rennie said. “Fraser has been excellent, especially from a continuity perspective. And the two tests where we advanced, he played a big hand – but maybe not the same impact defensively and in the contact areas where we struggled.
“Pete Samu, we played with him several times. He’s been great for us off the bench and delivers every time and so we have Fraser to bring some energy and hopefully get our hands on the pill late in the game.
In the All Blacks team
Captain Sam Cane will lead the New Zealand side in a loose attacking trio which has undergone forced changes for Thursday’s Test. Scott Barrett has been selected at the blind flank, while Hoskins Sotutu is expected to feature at number eight with Ardie Savea on personal leave.
Barrett’s move to the side of the scrum sees Brodie Retallick brought back into the starting lineup where he will join his longtime partner at No. 2 Samuel Whitelock.
“That’s what we predicted,” Rennie said.
“With Brodie Retallick back in the mix, and Scott Barrett has been a great performer for them. This gives them a powerful line, especially a defensive line. He’s a good player, Scott Barrett, and just as good at the six or the lock. Hoskins is like Ardie Savea. There is a lot of depth in this team.
On the hard truths and key messages of the Class of 2002
Rennie said the Wallabies suffered another intense overhaul after losing in Sydney.
“There are a number of things,” he said of the focus on training.
“We lost collisions on both sides of the ball. So we couldn’t slow their ball down or steal much. We couldn’t get a lot of lead and fastball, we struggled to hit where we wanted to hit, we kicked a lot and it slowed the game down and gave them a chance to throw their maul.
“We defended their maul very well. Our scrum and line-up was quite solid, which is essential against a team like South Africa, but you have to dominate the collision zone to give yourself a chance.
“If we found ourselves on their side, we always thought we could put them under a bit of pressure, but we spent a lot of time on the wrong side of the pitch without the ball or losing collisions at key moments. So nothing changes this week. They are all essential.
He added: “The All Blacks definitely kicked a lot more last week. I think it’s the influence of Joe Schmidt. They took away many more than nine. And were much more direct to earn the right to play wide. We expect something similar this weekend.
He said the class of 2002 emphasized “responsibility,” “and how tough they were on each other and the high expectations for how they trained and how they played.
“They said maybe they were a bit inconsistent but they managed to get a similar team on the pitch. They ended up with a lot of world-class players.
“They were able to play a game that was high skill, high pace. They were a very good team in the late 90s early 2000s. It was good to have them and share what they felt as the last to win the Bledisloe Cup. What we do know is that against the All Blacks you turn your back or kick badly at your peril. So that was a priority for us.