Cop that! Wessels' brutal tongue-in-cheek call on captain

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

He might be the captain but Dave Wessels says Test fullback Dane Haylett-Petty will face a tough time getting back into the starting side for the Melbourne Rebels given the form of Reece Hodge.

It might have been a tongue-in-cheek comment from Wessels, but the coach's comment said what many think of the Rebels' backline: that it's stacked with talent.

Haylett-Petty had hoped to be fit for Saturday's showdown with the Waratahs in Sydney, but has been given another week to recover from his knee-injury that he suffered against the Waratahs at the SCG last month.

Wessels said had it been a final Haylett-Petty would likely have been risked.

"I think if it was a final we probably would have pushed him to play," he said.

"But we've quite happy with where the outside backs are. Marika's (Koroibete) playing well I think Hodgey's playing particularly well at 15, so I keep reminding Dane I'm not sure how I'm going to get himself back into the team. He's going to have to earn that.

"And particularly around Reece Hodge, I'm really pleased with how Reece Hodge is playing at the moment." 

Ever since debuting for the Rebels in 2016 the question has always followed: Where is Hodge's best position?

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At Test level, Hodge has played at fly-half, inside and outside centre as well as at fullback and on the wing.

While not commenting on where he thought Hodge's preferred position was, Wessels said he was developing well there and that his massive boot gave him a real point of difference.

"Firstly he's just got an enormous kicking game," Wessels said.

"He can genuinely kick you 22-22 pretty easily.

"His communication and organisation of the backfield is really great and he's obviously got some real speed.

"I think he's played really well for us there.

"It's not really my place to say where he's going to play at Test level but you couldn't ask for a more professional guy in terms of the way he prepares and the work he puts into his body to get himself right and be able to perform.

"He's a big part of our team obviously and I'm really pleased that the fact he's going as well as he is at fullback."

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Meanwhile, Wessels confirmed that Haylett-Petty and Matt To'omua were both eligible for a short-stint overseas but had indicated that they wanted to stay at the Rebels.

The news comes after it was confirmed that incumbent Wallabies captain Michael Hooper had opted to leave the Waratahs for the 2021 season to take up a short-term deal with Toyota Verblitz in Japan before returning to Australian rugby midway through the year.

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