'An opportunity to make history and win our first Bledisloe': The driving factor behind Rennie's Wallabies

International
by Christy Doran

After three days of being hotel-bound in Christchurch, Wallabies hooker Jordan Uelese says the Bledisloe buzz is starting to feel real as they hit the training paddock for the first time ahead of the opening trans-Tasman Test on October 11 in Wellington.

The Wallabies arrived in the Shaky Isles last Friday night but before being able to start training as a group had to first complete three days of total isolation at their hotel in the South Island.

For some the opportunity to be bunkered down in their hotel rooms has been a nice change of pace and an opportunity to recharge the batteries after a taxing Super Rugby AU season, as well as catch up on the latest hits on Netflix and indulge on the menu.

Not that it's all been fun and games over the past three days though.

After a sleepy Saturday, the Wallabies were back behind the computers studying their moves on Sunday while the 12 front-rowers in the squad each had exercise bikes in their rooms to keep the legs turning over during the quarantine period.

On Monday the Wallabies all passed their COVID-19 tests and that means Dave Rennie's men will finally be let off the leash on Tuesday afternoon for their first official training run on enemy territory. Not that they'll be able to mingle in Christchurch yet, with the Wallabies only able to go to and from their training facilities. 

Even still, by Tuesday morning the excitement of returning to the training fields had very much returned.

"It's (the Bledisloe opener) starting to feel real," Uelese told reporters ahead of their Tuesday afternoon training session.

"Been really itching to get out there and train, put what we've been learning on zoom into practice.

"The boys are feeling really good.

"Being stuck in a room, you're really itching to get out there and shed off a few pounds we've gained in quarantine, for some, but we're really feeling it.

"The first Test is next week.

"Time for the boys to put together what we've learned and put our best foot forward.

"There are players out there who have had an awesome Super Rugby season and we've been building.

"We've got a really young squad as well and that's really exciting, we're looking forward to getting on the field and putting those combinations together."

Uelese, who came off the bench during last year's World Cup quarter-final loss to England, is one of four hookers in the squad along with Folau Fainga'a, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and newcomer Tom Horton.

Fortunately, the 23-year-old is available for selection after coming off injured during the Melbourne Rebels' qualifying final loss to the Queensland Reds earlier in the month with a shoulder injury - the same injury that forced Uelese to miss the Ireland series in 2018.

"When I got that injury against the Reds at Suncorp the day before we go into camp, (it was) kind of a bit of deja vu to when I did my ACL at Eden Park the day before we went into camp for that Irish series," Uelese said.

"It's been a blessing this year, (I) finally got a lot of minutes under my belt - haven't had the best of (luck with) injuries, but I think the little things I've learnt, becoming a more mature player, you definitely learn ways to look after your body a bit better and I think that's paying dividends today.

"It's the most amount of minutes I've played consistently going into a Test window and that gives me the best foot forward to put myself in the picture to play some Test footy.

"Obviously with four hookers in the team, training's going to be huge and I'll definitely be competing for spots in these coming weeks."

If Uelese does get the nod for Bledisloe I, the Test will be extra special for the Rebels rake.

The broad-shouldered hooker, who started playing rugby as a two-year-old in his nappies and played alongside All Blacks back-rower Ardie Savea, grew up in Wellington and still has the majority of his family living in the New Zealand capital.

But despite making his professional debut in 2017, Uelese has yet to play in his home city.

"Born in Wellington, my brothers still live there, my dad's older siblings still live there as well, so I've got a lot of family over there," Uelese said.

"I guess you could say it's a home game for me.

"If I do get the nod, that would be really special, it's the first time I'm playing in Wellington since I left my schooldays.

"It'd be really exciting to play at the Cake Tin - I've never played there before. I'll do everything I can in my power to put my name up for selection."

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Not only is playing for the Wallabies special, for the nine Rebels in the squad pulling on the jersey would be reward for the road they have travelled in 2020.

To play Super Rugby AU, the Rebels had 24 hours to get out of Melbourne.

Since then they've been on the road for 15 weeks.

They, along with the 35 other members of the Wallabies, will be in their bubble until the final match of The Rugby Championship on December 12.

Uelese said elements of homesickness had hit home, but added that it was a unique experience to get closer as a group as the Wallabies attempt to win back the Bledisloe series for the first time in 18 years.

"You do go through your troughs and highs, but being part of the Wallabies and being on tour here, it's an opportunity to make history and win our first Bledisloe," he said.

"Those things outweigh homesickness.

"It has been tough.

"I haven't seen any family member or touched someone from my bloodline for a very long time, but you make a new family. These boys are my brothers now, these are the boys I'm going to spend the next few months with now so you've got adapt to the environment you're around.

"These are the guys you rely on the field.

"You've definitely got to build those bonds off the field.

"These guys are your family.

"When you have no-one around you, you're forced to build those bonds, you're forced to get tighter as a group and get to know each other, so that's a positive."