Hodge ready for centre step

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Reece Hodge was handed a crucial lesson at Eden Park a fortnight ago but says he’ll be happy to be thrown up at inside centre against Wales.

The 22-year-old wasn't satisfied with his outing against New Zealand but is keen to take on the midfield challenge again.

“Not one of my better games,” he said.

“For the team, a few positives... But just executing on an individual level within the game plan is definitely what I learned the most out of the game.”

Reece Hodge could be in for a shift. Photo: Getty ImagesIf Hodge is picked at 12 this week, he will definitely line up with a different man outside him than at kick-off in Auckland, after Samu Kerevi Washington ruled out of the Spring Tour with ankle syndesmosis.

Whoever does line up in the midfield will have a mountainous challenge against the most-capped Welsh centre pairing in Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts.

Another new combination won't worry Hodge, who has been thrown around at club and Test level this season.

“I think you have to be prepared to play any position and the more you can develop skills with any combination, the better we’re going to be as a player on a whole level,” he said.

“I think obviously learning the different intricacies of each player’s game has definitely been helpful. We’re all comfortable playing wherever we’re put so I don’t think it’s ben too much of a disruption.”

Defence coach Nathan Grey said the changing midfield structures wasn't a concern but conceded a consistent selection was of benefit.

“It’s really important,” he said.

Samu Kerevi will miss the Spring Tour. Photo: Getty Images“Always building those combinations, you get those little nuances with one another and you start to get a good understanding but in saying that, in training we constantly rotate the guys through those positions.

“We’ve got Henry [Speight] who can play up in 13 as well.

“A few guys who can slot into that role with Samu’s injury.

“You want to maximise the strengths of all the guys in the team and us as coaches, that’s what we do to put the pieces together but having a number of players with a number of different positions, gives us a lot of flexibility.”

 As for Hodge's first inside centre run, Grey said the youngster was yet to be fully comfortable, but backed him to improve.

"He played a bulk of the season at in centre in Super Rugby with the Rebels," he said.

"He’s finding his feet in that position. It’s a difficult position but he’s got a good skill set to be able to contribute there and the experience playing in NZ is only adding to his experience of playing at the higher level.

"You constantly learn – he got smoked on the outside for that first try and it’s something that he learned from. Every one learns from those experiences. He’s growing as a player and he’s working really diligently.:

Grey said he was confident any fledgling Wallabies pairing would be up for the task of facing Wales's established pairing.

“He’s a bloody good player (Davies),” he said.

“He’s got a strong carry, very good left foot and that combination with Jamie is world class.

“It’s something we’ve done our analysis on and we’ve certainly prepared for it.”

Israel Folau is happy playing anywhere. Photo: ARU Media/Brian HookGrey said there was no certainty over Israel Folau playing in 13, despite his greater involvement when shifted into the spot against New Zealand.

“Definitely it’s an option for us,” he said.  

“He’s comfortable in the front line, he’s comfortable in that backfield as well.

“From that game against New Zealand, he touched the ball more than any other game we’ve played this year.

“The opportunity to get him the ball is something we really focus on. His ability under the high ball really is world class.

“We’ve got a number of guys who are good in that role in terms of Dane Hayley-Petty, Israel himself, Sefa Naivalu is very good under the high ball.

“You need to be when you play rugby over here you need to have that depth of guys who have that ability to take away that high ball option which a lot of teams do kick over here.”

The replacement for suspended flanker Dean Mumm is still an intriguing selection, with Sean McMahon fit for the Wales Test and Scott Fardy also in the mix, while Lopeti Timani’s form at number eight won't make the call much easier.

The Wallabies take on Wales this Sunday morning, 6 November from 1.30am AEDT on BeIn Sports Channel 513, as part of your FOXTEL subscription.