Rennie open to eligibility tweaks, says Super Rugby AU a "crucial time" for Wallabies prospects

Super Rugby - AU
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says he would be open to the idea of picking players from outside Australia if they were playing in Super Rugby.

The format of Super Rugby moving forward is under debate, both in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the wider discontent with the current competition structure.

A trans-Tasman competition looms as a popular option, especially in Australia, while a number of high-profile figures have backed the inclusion of some Japanese Top League teams going forward.

While Rennie has been vocal about his desire to have his Test players playing locally rather than overseas, he said it would be logical to allow Aussies playing in non-Australian Super Rugby teams to be picked for the national side.

"My view is if we had a Wallaby playing for the Blues, we get to see him playing against the best Aussies and from a selection point of view, that makes sense that you'd be able to do that," he said.

"I'm not a big fan of trying to pluck guys out of France, we've got no influence on how they train and how they prepare.

"Having been up there the last three years, I've got a pretty good idea about how a lot of those French clubs train and so on.

"Best case scenario is we have them here, helping our young kids develop, good players around them and helping our Super Rugby guys around."

If that thinking were in place currently, a number of Aussies playing for the Sunwolves in recent years could have been considered Test eligible.

Rennie stopped short of recommending any changes to the current "Giteau Law", which allows players with 60 or more Tests to be selected from overseas, but his view is clear.

"My feeling is that the ideal scenario is that we're picking from within," he said.

"The reason I say that is if we do like South Africa did at the World Cup and you allow all your players to go overseas and you can pick anywhere in the world, clearly you end up with a pretty good side in a World Cup year but it's going to encourage a lot players to leave Australia and chase the big money knowing they could still play for their country, which I think will have a detrimental effect on the quality of our Super Rugby and the development of players within that.

"Ideal scenario is we're picking from within our competition (but that's) not to say that we don't look at other ways to encouraging guys to come home as well.

"Trying to lure some of those guys who have left recently, encourage them to  come back and play Super Rugby and then be available for Wallabies is important. Developing that is crucial over the next couple of years.

"There's so many good Australian players playing overseas. young men who are probably in their prime but not in our country, so we've made a lot of phone calls to lots of individuals and just to get an idea of where they're at, show a bit of love and hopefully deliver them back over time but some of that's about creating relationship."

Rennie said he had been in contact with departed lock Izack Rodda, who has signed a one-year deal with French side Lyon, about his future in Australian rugby.

"I've spoken a lot to Izack," he said.

"I'm not certain what's been reported, I don't tend to read a lot of papers but the full picture probably hasn't been painted. I had a good chat to him last week. He's gone and the whole situation was really messy and I think could've been handled a lot better, so it's disappointing.

"It's disappointing because with young Harry Hockings gone, who I think could be an outstanding international lock, and with Izack gone and you look at guys like Rory Arnold heading off last year, there's certainly an opportunity for some guys coming through.

"Not ideal but in the end it is what it is and we've got to get on with it."

WALLABIES SQUAD SELECTIONS

Exactly what Rennie's first Wallabies team looks like will be formed largely by what happens in the upcoming 12-week Super Rugby AU competition.

Rennie and his assistants have picked a Players of National Interest squad after the early parts of the Super Rugby competition but players' form over the domestic competition will be pivotal in deciding who suits up for Australia's first Test of 2020, likely to be a Bledisloe encounter in October.

"The next three months is a great opportunity for players," he said.

"We've been in close contact with 30-odd of them. That's been good for me, the positive side of no footy since March has been is that I've been able to do an enormous amount of work with the other staff and then a chance for me to do a lot of homework and get clarity on the players and the quality of the game and so on and areas we need to see shifts in. We've done a lot of work around that, we've done IDPs (Individual Development Plans), the players have done IDPs.

"We had a lot of of discussion around that but there's still opportunities for guys to jump in outside that group.

"That's what the next three months is about really. We're in constant contact with the PONI group and some of those guys are in that group maybe for the future, some we think are ready to go now.

"I will know a bit more the next three months but it's a crucial time."

Rennie said he was yet to settle on who might captain that side, with no guarantee that Michael Hooper would continue as skipper.

"We haven't spoken about captaincy at all," he said.

"I've spoken to Hoops a lot on various things but all we've talked about at the moment is earning the right to play.

"So, it's about playing well enough to win the jersey and then we'll sort out who captain will be.

"Clearly he's not doing it at the Waratahs and that's been good for his game to be honest, I think he's played really well.

"He's still leading no doubt, just hasn't got the (c) next to his name.

"He's a strong contender for captain but we haven't firmed up any decisions around that and we'll work out what the team is first and then we'll select the captain but there's lots of good leaders in amongst that group."

In the coaching ranks, Rennie was full of praise for Brumbies coach Dan McKellar with the latter linked to the vacant national forwards coaching spot.

While McKellar has been quick to play down talks, the Brumbies have in recent days endorsed the idea of him balancing his club duties with a national role.

Rennie stopped short of confirming McKellar's addition for 2002 but was effusive in his praise of the Brumbies mentor.

"Over the coming weeks, it'll become clearer," he said.

"We've got only a skeleton crew at the moment, we've got a number of guys around S&C and so on and coaches that we need to fill some holes.

"What I'll say about Dan, really impressive.

"I've conversed with him a lot over this year, I've coached against him a bit when I was at the Chiefs and so on.

"He's running a really good operation there - I think it's important that we provide avenues for Australian coaches to come through and develop, he's a very good coach and would be a good addition to our group."

The Super Rugby AU competition kicks off on Friday July 3 when the Reds host the Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium, kicking off at 7:15pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. Buy a Kayo subscription now.