He started the year as an unknown quantity but the prince of centres Tim Horan has given his nod of approval to Hunter Paisami and his burgeoning teammate Jordan Petaia to be the Wallabies’ long-term midfield partnership ahead of their final Test of the year against Los Pumas on Saturday.
The former only got his first real crack in Super Rugby back in February because of an injury to Petaia – caused by Paisami at Queensland Reds training – and now the duo look set to finish the year as the Wallabies’ centre pairing for the third straight Test.
Paisami’s entrance to the Test arena, which came almost a year to the day that Petaia, 20, made his debut after a couple of false starts, only occurred because his Reds teammate – considered the biggest attacking threat in Australian rugby – suffered yet another injury in the Super Rugby AU final.
Now, the Reds duo have the chance to develop into the Wallabies’ long-term centres partnership and do what Horan did by winning a World Cup first with Jason Little outside him and later Dan Herbert during their 1999 World Cup triumph.
“Yeah, they’ve got time to form a partnership and partnerships take time,” Horan told RUGBY.com.au.
“You look at Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith, you want to have different styles, and different strengths and weaknesses in a partnership. It’s combinations, it’s awareness, it’s the ability to understand 90 per cent of the time what your partner’s going to do. What’s his favoured side of the field to run on, what’s his preferred tackling side et cetera.
“Jordy is better at 13 than the wing because there’s more opportunity for him to be involved in the play. But I think they should swap and change a bit more to get Jordy a bit more involved coming in at 12.”
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Many were surprised when Paisami took Australian rugby by storm earlier this year given he had unceremoniously been let go from the Rebels 18 months earlier.
But it was back in Dalby of all places that the midfielder first turned heads and started his run to the Wallabies, as he came off the bench in a trial match against the Waratahs and made two stunning linebreaks in the second-half.
He hasn’t stopped turning heads since.
Yet, given his hard-running lines and hit-man tackling technique, Paisami was pigeonholed as an outside centre.
It was a narrow view, one that was holding back Australian rugby and had only been recognised when Samu Kerevi had late in the piece been shifted from outside to inside centre.
Yet, those who knew him, like James O’Connor, recognsed early that he had more to offer than that.
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The duo formed a brother like relationship throughout the year as the former golden boy of Australian rugby and the new wayward lamb started their own respective redemption stories.
“I actually had that conversation (of him playing at inside centre alongside Petaia) with Hunter at the start of the campaign,” the vastly experienced O’Connor said.
“The best element is that they compliment each other.
“They can run short lines and out lines, but their strengths - without giving too much away of how we want to create our attack plan this week - literally compliment each other.
“They can play up and down straight, they can get in those wide channels, they can both hit and one of the other big things they have (is) a pretty good understanding of each other and (the) lines that they’re manipulating defences with.
“For me as a 10 it makes my job easy because I can get those comms early and know that they can create and I don’t have to come around the corner and try and manipulate myself.”
“These guys have their own ideas and they’re finding each other on the field more often than not as you saw with a couple of those little grubbers through, a couple of those short balls out the back, they’re gravitating towards each other, it’s almost magnetic.”
The beauty about Paisami and Petaia is that the duo will get the chance – should they remain fit – to develop alongside one another each week at the Reds.
A partnership that started at Wests in Brisbane club rugby could yet become the stability and the midfield threat the Wallabies have long craved.
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