Youth or experience: To'omua's injury concern opens up another selection headache for Rennie's Wallabies

Mon, 19/10/2020, 01:40 am
Christy Doran
by Christy Doran
Could Reece Hodge wear the No.12 jersey for the Wallabies for the first time since 2016? Photo: Getty Images
Could Reece Hodge wear the No.12 jersey for the Wallabies for the first time since 2016? Photo: Getty Images

Matt To’omua’s reoccurring groin injury has given the Wallabies a selection headache ahead of Bledisloe III in Sydney.

While he's not been ruled out of Bledisloe III, To'omua must be at long-odds to play on October 31st given the reoccurring nature of his injury, which he tweaked during the Rebels' qualifying final loss to Queensland in September.

The veteran playmaker, who provides the Wallabies a second playmaking option, a strong kicking option, defensive starch and, perhaps most importantly, communication and a composed head, was forced off after 34 minutes at Eden Park.

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It didn’t take long for his absence to be felt during the 27-7 loss at Eden Park.

While the Wallabies went into the sheds only trailing 10-7, the All Blacks scored three tries in 10 minutes to blow the game open and To’omua’s absence in the midfield was felt, where the kings of turnover pounced.

Twice the Wallabies were exposed on the fringes and To’omua’s communication and strong tackling technique would have been vital in the lead up to Jordie Barrett and Sam Cane’s tries.

In his absence, Hunter Paisami – playing just his second Test – shifted from outside centre to fill the void left at No.12 and his Reds teammate Jordan Petaia made his return from injury to join him in the midfield.

Paisami’s stocks didn’t necessarily go down. In many ways it allowed him to show his ball-playing skills for the first time after being used as a hole-running outside centre all year, who has made a name for himself by his punch and physicality through contact.

But it would be a massive ask for a Super Rugby rookie to switch to the second playmaking role for Bledisloe III when he’s spent such previous few minutes in the crucial role.

During his call for Fox Sports, pundit Rod Kafer said he had been impressed by Paisami’s endeavor but made the observation that it was a fine line between over playing your hand.

“I don’t mind Hunter Paisami when he throws those dummies, he’s very active,” the former World Cup-winning inside back said on Fox Sports.

“The ball’s got a lot of movement around him, he brings energy every time he gets near it. He gets into those collisions; the critical thing is delivering that ball back."

In his post-match press conference Rennie also heaped praise on Paisami, but tellingly name-dropped Brumbies second playmaker Irae Simone as another candidate to wear the No.12 jersey.

“I think Hunter’s going great. A young man who wasn’t even sure he’d play Super Rugby at the start of the year, so he’s started the first two Tests and I thought he made a pretty good fist of moving into 12,” Rennie said.

“We do have some pretty good options, who didn’t play today as well, Irae Simone being one fella who has spent a bit of time over here in New Zealand - a big part of the Brumbies set up - so we do have some options, but I thought Hunter was strong.”

Few have developed in Australian rugby quite like Simone.

At the Waratahs he was a shell of what Shute Shield observers had witnessed, where under the coaching of Simon Cron he helped lead Northern Suburbs to their first title in four decades.

But in his second season at the Brumbies, Simone was one of the competition’s best players and gave Dan McKellar’s men a strong kicking game, a bigger body in the midfield and some play making ability too.

He's yet to make his debut, but Simone was a cool head for the Brumbies in 2020.


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There are other alternatives too.

He could turn to Reece Hodge, who wore the No.12 jersey on the Wallabies’ 2016 Spring Tour.

While the Wallabies lost to England and Ireland on that campaign, Hodge was excellent at inside centre against Wales during their crushing 32-8 win in Cardiff.

As recently as last month too, Wallabies attack coach Scott Wisemantel said they saw Hodge as a utility back currently but believed he could develop into a long-term midfielder.

The final option would be to shift James O’Connor to the position and allow Noah Lolesio, who many believe will wear the No.10 jersey in the years to come, to make his debut starting at fly-half.

To’omua’s injury has stretched the Wallabies’ depth and experience in the backline.

But we could get a crucial insight into the thinking of Rennie if he turns to the 20-year-old Lolesio to keep the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup hopes alive.

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