Breakout flanker Tim Anstee is being encouraged to chase his dual dream of becoming an Olympian and a Wallaby in the busy few months ahead.
The Wallabies’ ongoing and frustrating search for the ideal No.6 has led them to examine Fijian Seru Uru, Melbourne Rebels bolter Josh Kemeny and dynamic sevens convert Anstee.
Coach Dave Rennie’s 40-man squad for next month’s three-day camp on the Gold Coast is not a Test squad.
It’s not even a Wallabies training squad but no player in the country wants to be on the outside looking in because it’s Rennie’s “form and potential” squad as he calls it.
However you want to brand this Players of National Interest squad, Rennie is doing his absolute best to take a look at all his backrow options.
Anstee, 23, is an exciting discovery. We all knew how good he was at sevens but he has transitioned to the 15-a-side game with some eye-popping plays for the Western Force that harness his speed off the mark and line-breaking.
Rennie said Anstee’s selection for the Gold Coast should not be seen as derailing the plan for him to drop back into the Aussie sevens squad for the Tokyo Olympics in July.
“We know he wants to play XVs and be a Wallaby but the Olympics are important as well,” Rennie said.
“We are certainly keen to help that program. We are not going to grab guys, put them on the sidelines and deny them their sevens chance.”
The Wallabies are scheduled to play the in-form French in three Tests in July which overlaps with preparation for the July start to the Olympics in Tokyo. There is a June 30 deadline to name the 12-man Australian sevens squad.
Australian men’s seven coach Tim Walsh applauded Anstee’s selection.
“We as a program are celebrating. It’s brilliant for Tim and the program for him to gain this recognition in the squad,” Walsh said.
“The plan with Tim has been to make a shot at the Olympics and I now hope it’s both.”
Rennie’s predecessor Michael Cheika is an old backrower so you might have thought he had a headstart on backrow selections. He did more backflips and experimental moves than a season of Cirque du Soleil in search of the perfect backrow balance.
The perfect backrow was ever elusive over his five years, especially when he was compelled to include two opensides, David Pocock and Michael Hooper, in the trio.
Rennie is excited by what Uru, 24, and Anstee, 23, can offer as tall, athletic, pacy, ball-handling No.6 types. Kemeny, 22, is another young, high-impact talent.
They are the new toys because Brumbies high-performer Rob Valetini, NSW Waratahs firecracker Lachie Swinton and lock-No.6 option Lukhan Salakaia-Loto have been picked as well.
If Uru is picked by the Wallabies this year, his rugby nationality is tied to Australia. If the Wallabies linger on that call, his nationality switches to Fiji next year under the new regulations.
He has been a superb contributor for the Reds as a lineout winner, a neat-handed support runner and mobile attacker, both at lock and, against the Waratahs on Saturday, at No.8.
“The Reds have used him mostly at lock. We see him as a genuine No.8 or No.6. He’s a really good athlete at 110kg,” Rennie said.
“It’s competitive there at No.6. Swinton had a helluva 35 minutes there (against the All Blacks last year before being sent off).”
Beefing up their lock options is another crucial area and 119kg Sitaleki Timani is back as an option, eight years after his last Test in 2013.
Timani, 34, has been toughened by years in the French club system.
“Sitaleki is a beast of a man. Have a chat to ‘Holmsie’ (Force prop Greg Holmes) and he’ll tell you he is a massive scrummager,” Rennie said.
“We see more than that too. He’s come out of the French game which is pretty brutal and very direct. He defends well and has a lot of experience so we want to have a look at him.”
Added Force head of Rugby Matt Hodgson: "A key part of our recruitment strategy was to bring Wallabies back to Australia and to have Timani selected is very pleasing for us."
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