A possible shot this weekend for former caps to present their case. Perhaps including our own Tevita Kuridrani?

Second chance for fringe Wallabies in scratch match against Argentina

Wayne Smith, Senior Sport Writer
10:58 AM October 20, 2020

Fringe Wallabies squad members, plus such established but seemingly discarded stars as Isi Naisarani, Tevita Kuridrani and Jack Dempsey, are likely to be given the chance to play themselves back into Test contention in a scratch match Argentina at Sydney’s TG Milner Field on Saturday.

The stated purpose of the match is to provide the Pumas, who spent a fortnight in quarantine at Parramatta earlier this month, with a much-needed hitout before they play their opening Tri-Nations fixture against the All Blacks at Bankwest Stadium on November 14.

But the match might also serve a secondary purpose, providing Wallabies coach Dave Rennie with an opportunity to give some football to the 18 members of the 44-strong Australian squad who saw no game time at all during the opening two Tests of the Bledisloe Cup series against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

The Wallabies returned to Sydney on Monday, with Rennie expected to make some minor amendments to the slightly unwieldy squad he took into quarantine with him in New Zealand. Now that the team will be playing on home soil, the expectation is that it can be trimmed in size somewhat.

Still, with the exception of the match-day 23 used at Eden Park on Sunday plus Brumbies trio Pete Samu, Folau Fainga’a and Rob Valetini, who were all dropped after playing in the Wellington Test, there is a full team – plus reserves – itching for a game after training non-stop for the past month.

As well, Rennie is likely to bring in unused PONI (Players of National Interest) squad members who now could come into the selection picture, players such as Brumbies lock Cadeyrn Neville and hooker Connal McInerney. It is also believed he is considering bringing in an additional Queensland player, possibly as cover for inside centre Matt To’omua who is set to have scans on Tuesday on the groin injury he sustained at Eden Park.

Non-Wallabies members of the NSW Waratahs have also been standby for the match, as have selected Shute Shield players whose clubs are not involved in this weekend’s finals – Gordon, Eastern Suburbs, Northern Suburbs and Eastwood.

Naisarani, in particular, was regarded as a surprise omission from Rennie’s original Wallabies squad. It was only in February that Rebels coach Dave Wessels said he believed Naisarani, the starting number eight for the Wallabies in the World Cup quarter-final against England last October, was on course to become the best player in the world in that position.

But then Naisarani damaged his hamstring and took longer than expected to rehabilitate. Even when he resumed to the Rebels in Super Rugby AU, he was still struggling for fitness and Rennie left him out of his squad for New Zealand. While the Wallabies were on the other side of the ditch, Naisarani has been working out in Canberra alongside another player still hoping to resume his international career, 61-Test veteran Kuridrani.

Certainly if Naisarani can regain the form that earned him all eight of his Test caps last season, he could come into contention for the Tri-Nations, if not for the remaining two Bledisloe Tests against NZ on October 31 (ANZ Stadium) and November 7 (Suncorp Stadium), then for the Wallabies’ two remaining matches against Argentina on November 21 (McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle) and December 5 (Bankwest Stadium).

In the short term, Rennie almost certainly will need to find a replacement for To’omua at inside centre. The best solution may well be the easiest one, using Irae Simone of the Brumbies. Certainly that was one option Rennie identified on Sunday.

If he wants to preserve combinations, he could look to Queensland inside centre Hamish Stewart to provide an all-Reds unit at 10-12-13. But the fact that he has decided not to extend the net to overseas means that Japan-based former Queensland captain Samu Kerevi will not be brought home even though he can be released under World Rugby Regulation 9. But Rennie might be thinking more boldly still, shifting James O’Connor, the current 10, to inside centre and installing young Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio at five-eighth for his Test debut for the pivotal Bledisloe III against the All Blacks.

The Wallabies must win the remaining two Tests if they are to win the Bledisloe Cup back but veteran prop James Slipper – who looks set to join the 100-Test club in Newcastle against the Pumas – insists that task does not daunt them.

“There is one thing this group wants to do, we want to win the Bledisloe,” said Slipper. “So yes, we have a lot of work to do but we also don’t feel like we’re that far away as well.”

Wayne Smith
Senior Sport Writer