Hodge ready to handle extra Bledisloe traffic

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Reece Hodge will have no trouble fielding the extra traffic being sent his way in his first Test start at 13 on Saturday night, according to Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

All Blacks assistant Ian Foster admitted earlier in the week they’d be putting a target on the Wallabies’ newest 13, which was always expected to be Hodge.

“I guess we are going to have to ask some questions, aren’t we?” he said at the time.

Cheika said he expected Hodge to handle it as well as he has everything else in his Test career on and off the field - by taking it in his stride.

“Reece usually handles everything pretty well,” he said.

“We sledge him pretty hard all the time, the boys give it to him non-stop about taking his shirt off all the time and then showing it, so he deals with it all the time.

“Everything's a threat in this game... everyone's a target on both teams, that's the way it is at this level.

“I'm sure they'll target him and I'm sure Reece'll be ready, along with his teammates either side of him.”

Hodge admitted he anticipated having more to deal with at 13 but with weeks of training in that spot and already well-developed combinations with Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale, he was confident he could take it on.

“I think I'd expect them to target down that channel between the 13 and wing, which I've previously said is probably the hardest place to defend because there's such a gap there from the set piece,” he said.

“I think the combination's been working really well defensively especially throughout the week and having a really vocal 10 and 12 in Nard (Bernard Foley) and KB (Beale) has really helped me out and obviously playing a fair bit with Marika with the Rebels has helped as well.

“We'll feel confident that they're going to target us but we should be ready for what comes.”

The 13 jersey will be the fourth spot he has filled in a Test backline and Hodge could see the humourous side in that, joking needed just a run at nine and 15 to round things out.

Hodge has played patches of 13 for the Rebels but he had not expected his first start since last year’s Japan Test would come at that spot.

Tevita Kuridrani played his 100th Super Rugby match in Johannesburg. Photo: Getty ImagesRegardless of his experience in the spot, he is keen to put the heat on injured duo Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi with a strong Bledisloe performance.

“With Samu and Tevita in great form, especially towards the back end of Super Rugby I probably didn't envision it at all this season, so it's obviously very disappointing for them but in saying that it's also an opportunity for me,” he said.

“Hopefully if I'm able to perform well in that position then there's healthy competition there in the 13 jersey when they come back from injury.”

The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 7.45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.