Mr Fixit Hodge happy to plug gap at centre

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

WALLABIES utility Reece Hodge says a history of playing outside centre means he’d be comfortable stepping into the vacant no.13 jersey if called upon for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup series.

With experience at Test level in every jersey from no.10 to no.15, Hodge has become the Wallabies’ Mr Fixit and he’ll be called upon to plug another gap at centre on Friday night when Michael Cheika’s team take on a Super Rugby selection at Leichhardt Oval.

With Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani both injured for the Rugby Championship, Hodge is the leading candidate and the 27-Test utility ran in the spot at Wallabies training on Wednesday.

Though Cheika is yet to finalise his team for Friday night’s clash, Hodge is likely to fill the role in a Rebels-heavy backline also containing Will Genia, Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete and Sefa Navailu.

Rookies Hamish Stewart and Tom Banks are poised to also start.

Hodge’s candidacy for the Wallabies no.13 job was endorsed by rebels coach Dave Wessels on Tuesday, who said the Manly junior was a “natural centre”.

“If asked I would love to play 13 but I will probably find out on Friday at 6pm,” Hodge said.

“So I guess it is up to me to prepare for everything as I normally do and whatever happens, happens.

“I have played a fair bit (at no.13). I probably played a third of the year there, probably half of the year in the centres for the Rebels, and a fair bit over the last couple of years as well.

“As I have said previously I am comfortable playing pretty much 10 to 15 now. I have played it all. So now it is just up to me to prepare.”

Hodge played outside centre for the Rebels three times this season before shifting further in. The first game was arguably Melbourne’s best performance in their 46-14 win over the Sharks, but the other two were heavy defeats to Kiwi teams: 50-19 against the Hurricanes and 55-10 against the Crusaders.

Outside centre is often regarded as the toughest spot defensively, and Hodge agrees. But he is confident with enough time in the role, he can nail it down.

“I think it is (the toughest), because you are connecting the outside and inside sections of defence. It is such a pivotal part of the backline, where teams like to target that seam between 13 and wing quite a bit,” he said.

“It’s ultimately up to combinations, the more you play and dedend with the 10 and 12, and the wingers as well, the better the combinations are going to get.

“So if I play that position in this series at all and on Friday, that’s what we will be working on.”

Hodge said the Wallabies players, and Super selection guys, were all excited about the prospect of playing in front of a good crowd at Leichhardt Oval (which has free entry).

“The boys are looking forward to it, because we don’t have to run hills on Friday,” he said.

“We have a game instead. Obviously we all play rugby because we love it but we don’t necessarily love the flogging ourselves part of it. We’re looking forward to it.

“For a lot of us we haven’t played rugby in about two or three weeks so the more game fitness and match-related scenarios you get, in the build-up, the better the team is going to fare.”

The Wallabies will take on an Australian Super Rugby Selection on Friday night, kicking off at 6:45pm AEST, LIVE on Free entry for any spectators.