Winners and losers from Dave Rennie's first Wallabies squad

The Rugby Championship
by Christy Doran

At long last Dave Rennie has a squad to work with.

The New Zealander was appointed as Michael Cheika's replacement last November, but has had a frustrating wait to get his mitts on the nation he's been tasked to bring new life to after the Wallabies slipped to seventh on the World Rugby rankings.

And new life he has injected, calling up 16 uncapped players in his squad of 44 players named on Sunday afternoon.

It is very much a new dawn in Australian rugby, with Rennie just the second foreigner after Robbie Deans to coach the Wallabies.

Nor has the two-time Super Rugby-winning coach picked a safe squad.

The average age is 25, there are eight players selected who made their debuts in 2020 and there's been a couple of big omissions, with World Cup-backrowers Isi Naisarani and Jack Dempsey and veteran centre Tevita Kuridrani excluded.

Asked whether this squad could beat the All Blacks, Rennie emphatically replied "yes".

Here are the winners and losers from Rennie's first squad.

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WINNERS

Len Ikitau - Brumbies

The 21-year-old centre is the big bolter in the squad and has been picked ahead of his teammate Tevita Kuridrani.

"Lenny's probably a bit of a bolter," Rennie told reporters on Sunday afternoon. 

"If you looked at the squad, he hasn't had a lot of Super Rugby minutes but we see a lot in him, we think he's got a big future and we're keen to get him in the team and spend the next three months with him."

Ikitau is a powerful young midfielder in the same vein to the Queensland Reds' centre Hunter Paisami.

He packs a punch and runs good lines and undoubtedly Ikitau has been picked with an eye to the future.

The Brumbies centre has been starved for game time in 2020, but has come off the bench five times and scored against the Western Force last month.

It's unlikely that Ikitau would be picked ahead of Jordan Petaia or Paisami, but his selection is a big encouraging boost for a man just starting out his career.

Pone Fa'amausili - Rebels

The Rebels tight-head prop was one of the breakout stars of Super Rugby AU and caught the eye of everyone with his powerful ball-carrying.

The 23-year-old is a serious unit. He hits the scales at 130 kilograms and stands at 1.96cm.

It's no wonder why the potential is huge, particularly when he scrums as well as he does.

A former rugby league player, Fa'amausili is a relative newcomer to the XV-person game but he showed huge potential over the past couple of months.

The tight-head prop missed the qualifying final against the Reds because of a hamstring injury.

He is one of eight props in the 44-man squad, so once again Fa'amausili's selection looks to be one with an eye to the future.

Ned Hanigan - Waratahs

No stranger to the Wallabies, Hanigan has been recalled and could play a bigger role than many expect for Australia in 2020.

Why?

Well given the departures of Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman and Izack Rodda the Wallabies are short of locks and Hanigan, like Lukhan Salakai-Loto, are hybrid forwards who can be useful, particularly off the bench.

Hanigan's form was good when he returned from a long stint on the sidelines due to concussion.

Whether it was just because he was up against fellow Australian opposition or not, Hanigan managed to dent the line more and his work in the lineout has always been strong.

It's unlikely Hanigan will start, but he could be a useful player in a squad when flying in players on a whim will be impossible during the Rugby Championship because of COVID-19.

Joe Powell - Brumbies

Welcome back Joe Powell.

Few expected to see the curly haired halfback in the squad, but with No.9s included Powell has been included alongside his Brumbies teammate Nic White.

Powell's no mug. He's played four Tests for the Wallabies.

He faces a tough task to crack the matchday squad, but given his combination with the 12 other Brumbies in the squad he's a safe option to have as a backup.

LOSERS:

Isi Naisarani

Perhaps the most surprising ommission.

Naisarani was a regular in Michael Cheika's squad after becoming eligible for the Wallabies last year.

He started at the back of the scrum during the World Cup and in 2020 he was the Rebels' major metre maker.

It's understood that Australia's selectors were concerned by Naisarani's fitness levels.

Is it the end of Naisrani?

Absolutely not, he's still young and with a long season ahead it's more than possible Naisarani could once again feature at some point in 2020.

Rennie didn't want to expand on the specific reasons why players missed out.

"I’m not going to talk about it in detail around why those players missed out but if you look at Isi for example, we know what he is capable of but we’ve picked on form and we’ve constantly talked about earning the right to play and we think others have played better," Rennie told reporters on Sunday afternoon.

"He’s been given feedback throughout the comp and I spoke to him again this morning so he knows the shifts he want to see in his game." 

The Wallabies do have two different and exciting options at No.8 already, with uncapped Red Harry Wilson picked alongside two-time Super Rugby winner Pete Samu.

Rob Valetini could also play at No.8 if necessary too.

Jack Dempsey

Like Naisarani, Dempsey is another World Cup member not selected.

Dempsey wasn't included in Rennie's Players of National Interest squad back in April and while his stronger finish to the season saw him earn a way back he's not been included.

Consistency remains an issue for Dempsey.

The 26-year-old has explosive power and great footwork at the line, but he's not been able to regularly string performances together.

He's not been helped either by a light Waratahs pack that is in desperate need of some big men.

Tevita Kuridrani

A two-time World Cup member and a veteran of 61 Tests, Kuridrani's absence is a big one but it's not as big a surprise as his CV.

Kuridrani was left out, not "dropped" as his Brumbies coach Dan McKellar put it, for two rounds.

He returned against the Reds a week ago and dropped the ball over the line.

Is it the end for Kuridrani?

No, he's only 29 and he qualifies for the Wallabies under the 'Giteau Law' too.

But it's a good wakeup call and also an opportunity for the likes of youngsters Petaia, Paisami and Ikitau to make the midfield their own.

Jock Campbell

Campbell was included in Rennie's PONI squad but has ultimately missed out on selection in the official squad.

The Reds fullback would be one of the unluckier players to miss the cut given his strong season.

Campbell's very much a fullback and when asked to move on the wing has struggled defensively and doesn't have the frame to match it with some of the bigger, stronger and more explosive wingers in the world.

Did that hurt his chances? Probably.