Hodge happy to take playmaking reins

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Reece Hodge struggles to remember the last time he ran out in the no. 10 jersey, but that is all set to change on Saturday.

The 23-year-old has never started as flyhalf for the Rebels in two seasons at the club, but has found himself steering the action plenty of times and will do just that for the Wallabies when they take on Japan, with Bernard Foley out with illness.

Hodge shared the playmaking duties with former Reds 10 Jake McIntyre at Australia U20s level in 2014 and believes his last 10 start may have come in the Shute Shield for Manly.

The 20-cap Test back has played every backline position bar halfback since bursting onto the professional scene in 2016, having starred on the wing in recent outings for the Wallabies.

Moving him to flyhalf, then, for Saturday’s game, shocked plenty of punters, but it’s a possibility Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has been preparing for since the start of the Rugby Championship.

Bernard Foley has been suffering from a fever this week. Photo: Rugby AustraliaBernard Foley is the only specialist flyhalf in the Spring Tour squad, with Kurtley Beale and Hodge the two potential understudies.

Hodge has been training in the 10 spot in the reserves side for much of the Rugby Championship and said he was prepared to make the jump.

“I think Nardy's (Foley) played 80 minutes in every game since then (August), so I haven't really had the chance since then but I guess I have had to be prepared,” he said, at an Asics event in Yokohama.

“Now it's just about me stepping into the job and performing it as Nardy would love me  to do, if he wasn't sick.”

With Foley sick, Hodge’s training will be put to the test and Cheika is confident he’ll be up to it.

“You've always got to look at the positive instead of the negative,” he said.

“Obviously it's a missed opportunity and not having our playmaker there, chief, in Bernard it does hurt us, I won't lie about that, but I've got absolute confidence in Hodge because that's why I asked him to do that in the first place.

“Then we've still got a guy like Beale back ending for him, so if anything goes on we've got that back-up there.

“I was asked that question a little bit (about flyhalf depth) when we selected the squad  and it's come straight away to the forefront and as usual we believe what we're doing so we want to give the guy an opportunity.”

Where sometimes versatility can be a curse for players, unable to grasp a regular spot in a side, for Hodge it’s been a blessing, stepping into the void where he’s needed.

“I think you've got to ride the wave a bit with the old utility tag and it seems to be going alright at the moment,” he said.

“I think I've just got to keep performing wherever I'm put and that goes for all the backline this week.

“I think there's a few opportunities for guys to cement some spots and put some pressure on some incumbents."

The Wallabies take on Japan on Saturday November 4, kicking off at 2:40pm local, 4:40pm AEDT LIVE on FOX SPORTS.