It was against the Jaguares back in February that Hunter Paisami first caught the eyes of national selectors.
He hasn’t stopped spinning their heads, including first-year Test coach Dave Rennie, since then.
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Rennie, speaking exclusively on The Rugby Nation, said the 22-year-old, who was told he wasn’t “big enough” to play Super Rugby in 2018, has surprised him most since taking charge as Wallabies coach.
“It’s always hard to pull out individuals, but Hunter Paisami, we knew he had a pretty solid skillset because he kicks well, he kicks off both feet, he’s generally a pretty distributor and we all know he carries hard and can cut people in half, but if I look back six months ago when I first saw him play, Jordy Petaia’s out and Hunter gets a start and he really caught our eye in his first game,” Rennie told The Rugby Nation.
“Outside of a really commanding voice, he’s got an outstanding skillset and he’s slotted into international rugby quite easily, hasn’t he?
“When you think about four Tests against the All Blacks, it’s a hell of an introduction and I think he’s been really good. A number of other guys have been too but as far from as a young fella, he’s come from nowhere really, I think he’s been pretty impressive.”
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Rennie later went on to say departing Rebels lock Matt Philip was another who had exceeded expectations, particularly given they had hoped to call in France-based Rory Arnold for the Tri Nations.
“It’s been altered so we can pick a couple from anywhere,” said Rennie, after being asked the ‘Giteau Law’.
“We were keen to bring Rory Arnold back to give us a bit of depth at lock, obviously it’s an area that we’re very thin, but having said that Matt Philip has been excellent.
“He’s another guy that I could have talked about the fact that he’s made massive shifts in his game. Really good footwork in contact, so he’s got a lot of yardage carrying, big engine so he gets through a lot of work-rate, really good cleanout, his ability to get underneath defenders and be brutal, and he’s a handy lineout forward, so he’s got a lot of opportunity based on that.”
During an informative and fascinating discussion which helped reveal the direction Australian rugby is headed, Rennie also showed off his dry New Zealand sense of humour.
“I found out that I can live without my wife for three months, which she won’t be happy to hear,” he said, in response to what he had learnt during his first tour in charge of an international team.
“I think we had nine months where we saw each other every day which is unique as well, so I think she was pretty happy to get me out of the house as well.”
As for this weekend, Rennie said it was vital his side win their final Test of the year so it can act as a springboard for 2021 where the Wallabies will play France – the premier nation in European rugby, according to the New Zealander.
“The time’s flown. We’ve had a lot of fun, we’ve done a lot of hard work, we’ve laid a really good foundation but in the end we’re going to be judged on performances and it would be no good for us if we put in a poor performance on the weekend and then you don’t play another Test until July,” Rennie said.
“And what we know in July is we’re going to play the French and the French I reckon are the best team in Europe, amazing depth, so them coming over here, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re Six Nations champions by the time they arrive here.
“So it’s going to be a hell of a year around international footy, obviously a Rugby Championship, so there’s another big six Tests and a tour of Europe, and maybe even a grand slam opportunity if we can get the Irish over the line, so no soft games in there.”