Dave Rennie’s Wallaby XV: Who gets the nod from countless options from Super Rugby AU?

Super Rugby Australia concludes in a few weeks’ time, but the ongoing question of the revival of Australia is on the mind of many global rugby fans. Despite the first few weeks drawing negative feedback of the competition, the quality has steadily increased with the Brumbies and Reds regularly putting in dominant performances, Melbourne being […]

Dave Rennie’s Wallaby XV: Who gets the nod from countless options from Super Rugby AU?

Super Rugby Australia concludes in a few weeks’ time, but the ongoing question of the revival of Australia is on the mind of many global rugby fans.

Despite the first few weeks drawing negative feedback of the competition, the quality has steadily increased with the Brumbies and Reds regularly putting in dominant performances, Melbourne being a hit and miss, the Tahs showing they still may not be a shadow of their old teams and the unlucky Force playing with huge heart and bravery.

As an English-based fan, my knowledge may not be as deep in some areas so please do correct me in the comment section. From my hearings of Dave Rennie’s selection, I had a glance at his PONI list and from interviews, I would strongly bet on a two-playmaker system or one with more tactical kicking nous and balance to the last side that lined up with big ball runners such as Samu Kerevi, Jordan Petaia and Marika Koroibete that gave England plenty to think about despite their 40-16 win in the quarter-finals in Oita.

World rugby wants a strong Australia. I for one want to see the great rugby and sporting nation show its sheer quality and strength in the depth it truly possesses down under.

1. Scott Sio
A veteran in the scrum, Sio’s standout career moment was the 2015 World Cup in which Australia truly dominated scrum time in their pool against Wales and England, that was a core of them reaching the final. Sio may not have time to play with, but his strong showings for the Brumbies and Test-level experience should earn him loosie for now.

2. Folau Fainga’a
He didn’t get game time in Japan, but Fainga’a has been in superb form for the dominant Brumbies set piece. A strong scrummager and marshal of the line out that has been so key for the Brumbies’ physical platform. There is no evidence to suggest he cannot replicate club performances in a gold jersey.

3. Allan Alaalatoa
He has been one of Australia’s best front-rowers for the last few years. 30+ caps and action in Japan means Alaalatoa should get the nod from Rennie. Like Sio, a very good Brumby scrummager and should be in the nucleus of reinstating Australia’s scrum against global competition.

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

4. Rob Simmons
A bit Mitchell Marsh-like, Australian fans have resented his selection for a while now. In my opinion, Simmons was a stalwart in 2015 and rarely steps a foot wrong but it is hard to keep out others like Matt Philip, Cadeyrn Neville and even Luke Jones, who barely got a crack at the whip, and is now off to Paris.

That said, Simmons has 100 caps and the experience required to help lead the team for a period of time in this transition phase.

5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
He was impressive in the 2019 Tests and played cameos in Japan. Has been in good knick for the Reds and his versatility at blindside and lock is a valuable asset the Wallabies need to utilise. Sadly for Australia, as Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman started reaching brilliant form from the last year or so, they decide to leave to Europe and the UK.

Additionally, as Izack Rodda, a divisive player who really gives it his all has also gone to Lyon, the Wallabies have fewer and fewer Test-proven, experienced locks. Despite this, maybe it is a good thing in a time of transition for Rennie to blood some new players in a renaissance.

Rennie must be wary at the cost of potential short term under-par performance for the hope of consistency and success in the long term in regards to the forward pack and this Australian team as a whole.

6. Liam Wright
I had little heard of Wright until the opening round pre-match of Super Rugby AU, where he promised brutality and State-of-Origin hatred against the Waratahs at Suncorp. Wright backed up his chat and combated the Waratahs forwards, and it’s fair to say he ruffled up the feathers of Wallaby gold-boy Michael Hooper.

Wright has continued his good form throughout the competition and at the age of 22, surely now is the right time to warrant some starting time.

Liam Wright of the Reds

(Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

7. Michael Hooper (c)
I find it absurd about the criticism Hooper gets. Fact is, he is one of the best players in the world – at the 2015 WC, Hooper and David Pocock monopolised the breakdown to pin the Wallabies one game away from World Cup glory. Since becoming captain in 2017, his tackling and rucking have remained immense, while he’s attributed a carrying game too – the Wales game at the World Cup showed you how much of a body line player Hooper is and he never gives up a fight.

Yes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Pieter Steph du Toit have been immense in the last 18 months, but so has Hooper. A committed player and captain can surely not just be disposed of like that. Yes, younger talent at 7 should be blooded and his move to Japan can do that.

But for now, Hooper is the man with the ability and credentials to lead Australia’s revival.

8. Pete Samu
Edges Harry Wilson here. In 2018, Sam was at the discussion of a political feud between Rugby AU and the New Zealand Rugby Union over his selection for Australia while still a Crusader. Ironically, Michael Cheika wanted him so badly that Samu wasn’t picked for the plane to Japan.

However, Samu has shown great character in learning from his omission. Like his Brumby compatriots, he has been excellent in Super Rugby AU with a truly explosive carrying game. He should definitely be given another shot in the gold.

9. Nic White
As an England fan, I still don’t understand how he didn’t start the quarter-final alongside Matt To’omua. White has been class for Exeter in helping them become one of Europe’s best attacking and all-around teams in general.

White has a smart tactical kicking game and his performance in the 47-26 win against New Zealand was instrumental in the Kiwi’s thrashing in Perth – Squidge Rugby referenced a video that perfectly explains the dummy trap Nic White and co caused the Kiwis from the base of the ruck – give it a watch if you want to see how.

Back in Australia for the Brumbies, Nic White should hold onto the starting jersey but will be fiercely competed with by Tate McDermott, who has been immense for the Reds. White’s experience should see him primarily start and McDermott’s development should be managed delicately by Rennie – Australia seem to have some wealth at scrumhalf with Jake Gordon also in imperious form.

10. Matt To’omua
A seriously good operator at 10, To’omua has been in the Wallaby setup for a while now. With a decent tactical and goalkicking game, To’omua will work closely with Scott Wisemantel on polishing Australia’s exciting attack play.

He has been one of the players that have held the Rebels together and To’omua is exactly the sharp, attacking-minded operator Rennie needs at flyhalf for the Wallabies.

Matt Toomua

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

11. Marika Koroibete
Australia’s player of 2019 without a doubt. The flying Fijian is electric to watch and I can’t wait to see him and Sevu Reece play off together. Koroibete isn’t just about muscle and pace, his defence has improved too – the Wallabies will surely need him on the end of some slick moves.

12. James O’Connor
In all fairness, I’m not sure where to put JOC, but I know he has to start – JOC has been tried and tested at 13,15 and 10 and he’s good enough to play in all of those positions at Test level. However, in this two-playmaker system, I think JOC fits the team play well at 12.

It will be interesting to see how he and To’omua work together, but JOC brings vision, goal kicking and similar attack-minded instinct like To’omua does to this backline. He has been brilliant for the Reds this year.

13. Jordan Petaia
Serious talent here. Against England he was the Wallabies’ and possibly even the best player on the pitch. He gave Manu Tuilagi a lot to think about and constantly threw the kitchen sink at the English defence wave after wave in attack.

Petaia and Koroibete give Australia the crash-bash open style of play they love to play. Knowing JOC well from Reds, there is enough chemistry for this centre partnership to flourish. He’s only 20, but Petaia is one awesome player.

14. Tom Banks
Banks is highly rated and pips Jack Maddocks into the back three. He has some serious acceleration on him and is about time he gets some quality game time at Test level. The back three is where Australia do have options in DHP, Maddocks, Flilipo Daugunu and Wright to name a few.

Therefore this is most likely to change for the better or the worse. DHP I think is just on the wrong side of age and his international form has been in decline. Maddocks and Banks are highly-debated figures and both have talent to show at this level.

15. Reece Hodge
He may be listed as a 13 on the PONI but for team balance, Hodge is best here at 15. He’s an underrated player, with a monster boot and good wheels. Hodge has a strong running game and is defensively proven given a handful of appearances at 13 justifying it.

What Rennie needs to manage well is his versatility – only Elliot Daly and Hodge to my liking can play in many positions and have the same impact – Hodge could be used like Daly, maybe add to his in-play kicking game or focus on his strong ball in hand running skills and groom him into a predominant 15/winger who can slot in at 13.

Reece Hodge makes a break

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Lots of options to choose from – I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments but from my liking reserves will be:

16. Jordan Uelese
17. Taniela Tupou
18. James Slipper
19. Matt Philip
20. Harry Wilson
21. Hamish Stewart
22. Irae Simone
23. Tate McDermott

However, there are a lot more to choose from: Isi Naisarani, Jack Dempsey and Robert Valentini spring to mind in the back row. Tevita Kurindrani is unlucky to miss out in the centres and will rival Simone.

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Todd Louden embedding a one-club mantra at Southern Districts

Southern Districts have been one of the surprise packets through six rounds of the Shute Shield. The Rebels have won four of their first five games and currently sit fifth in a cluttered top half of the table. This comes after finishing a disappointing ninth in 2019. They began that season well too, starting 3-0 […]

Todd Louden embedding a one-club mantra at Southern Districts

Southern Districts have been one of the surprise packets through six rounds of the Shute Shield. The Rebels have won four of their first five games and currently sit fifth in a cluttered top half of the table.

This comes after finishing a disappointing ninth in 2019. They began that season well too, starting 3-0 before dropping 11 of their final 14 games.

That’s unlikely to happen this year. Not with Todd Louden now at the helm.

The former Waratahs assistant is the new head coach of Souths and things already feel very different. And it’s not just the wins. The side has looked gutsy, determined and more polished in the early going.

Louden’s overarching goal upon arrival at the club was engineering a strong foundation. One that begins at colts then progresses right through their grade system.

“We have some great young talent coming through from our five junior clubs,” he says, “but we probably didn’t cultivate or prepare them well enough to play (in the past).

“So now we want to ensure that rather than it be just about first grade we’re developing from the bottom up.

“This one-club mantra and approach has already helped some of our depth. It’s only our first year and we’re starting to see some payout, but we’ve still got a long way to go yet.”

That payout has included wins over last season’s top two finishers – Sydney University and Eastwood. The 32-31 victory over the Students in Round 5 was the game of the season so far.

Souths were all but goners trailing 31-22 in the 79th minute. But two minutes can be a long time in rugby. Actually, it took nearly nine minutes at the end of this game.

The Rebels scored two tries in that time – the latter coming in the 86th minute – to snatch a thrilling victory. The jubilant Souths players were then swarmed upon by their reserves, second-graders and basically anyone wearing blue and red like bees to a honeypot.

Louden has been a part of plenty of dramatic victories in his 20-plus years as a coach. Bryan Habana’s Super Rugby championship-winning score for the Bulls when the Aussie was their attack coach in 2007 still ranks No. 1. But Dominic McGrath’s late winner to topple Uni is certainly a contender for top five.

Todd Louden during his time with the Waratahs. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“It’s definitely up there from a coaching perspective because you could see the emotion that poured out at the end of the game,” he says.

“There was belief there that they could do it and they just backed themselves. For a young team that’s pretty amazing.

“They were out on their feet but they knew what they had to do and just put their minds to it. The team grew in that game so that’s one of the things that was really pleasing.”

The delight comes through clearly in Louden’s voice. He’s no doubt revelling in this role after nearly quitting coaching last year.

“I’ve been dealing with some issues,” he says, “as my parents have been sick.”

“My family have moved to Wollongong and I reached out to Southern Districts to say I would help out when I can, as they are the closest team. But I was actually going to get out of rugby, to a point, because I was dealing with other stuff.

“The next minute I’m in a meeting with them and they were just great people. They had a plan, albeit somewhat naïve, and knew what they wanted. The next minute I’m involved.”

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If anybody qualifies to judge if a plan to succeed at Shute Shield level is naïve or not, it’s Todd Louden. The 50-year-old was previously director of rugby at Sydney University, where he set up the Elite Development Squad (EDS) in 2004. This helped jump-start a University dynasty in the back half of that decade and beyond.

Louden also vaulted Randwick from ninth to minor premiers in his single season coaching there in 2006. More recently he presided over consecutive winning seasons with West Harbour in 2017 and 2018 after the club posted a 6-12 mark the year prior.

The man knows how to get the job done. His first prerogative upon arrival at Souths was to bring the club into the modern era, as he felt they’d slipped a notch or two behind their competition rivals.

“I thought that we (the club) probably haven’t moved with the times,” he says.

“I identified things like sports science, our game management, our operations on and off the field and just getting these levels up first. Also establishing a really strong work ethic and our approach to every game.

“I definitely didn’t have a goal to make the finals or that sort thing, more to just attack this season and raise our standards. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves thinking about who we are playing next, are we going to play finals, the ladder, or even the scoreboard on the day. It’s been a real break away from that.

“The focus is on how fast and how far we can develop this year. We’re just taking it one game a time, as cliché as that sounds, and trying to improve every game.”

Louden was once upon a time a high school physical education teacher. You can sense the pedagogue still exists in him as he discusses his approach to coaching. Not gruff or intimidating, Louden comes across affable, measured and cerebral.

“All of our training is either game-based or compete-based,” he says. “We team-coach and try to give the players cues on the run in a game environment: what did you see? Why did you take that option? Is there a better option?

“It’s hard. It’s challenging. Some of the players are used to rote learning and we’re trying to break them out of that. We’re big believers in throwing them in the deep end and letting them problem solve.”

Louden and his staff are trying to get away from structured rugby and encourage their players to be more active decision-makers, a change that may enable their talents to flourish and also differentiate their play from other teams.

“We just felt that a lot of teams are attacking the same way,” he says. “We wanted to be a little bit different. We also wanted to be a team that are not necessarily unpredictable but a little bit unorthodox.

“So we pulled it apart and put it back together, particularly the way we play as a pack. Mainly we wanted to induce a new system that we felt that no-one else was using.

“Have we got it right at the moment? No. But we’re trying to get the ball into the right people’s hands as opposed to forcing people out of their comfort zones to do something that’s not naturally their strength.

“I look at the way we’re playing and we’re quite hard to scout at times because it looks erratic. That’s partially the design we created: to get away from being over-structured and play a little bit more ‘what’s on’ rugby.

“It’s a bit like sparring then – when the opportunity arises – being in a position to take it. We didn’t want to inhibit some of the natural skills of the players.”

At 4-1, and with two major scalps to their credit, this approach has quickly delivered results. Individuals are also starting to prosper within the Souths set-up. Louden points out a few who he thinks can kick on from Shute Shield.

“Isoa Nasilasila, he’s a Westfield Sports High boy who’s just an outstanding talent and plays above his years for a lock,” he says.

“Harry McLennan, our No. 7, is a real goer. He’s one you wanna play with not against. Laurence Tominiko, our 20-year-old prop, he’s very smart and he’s very quiet yet in his second game of first grade ever (against Sydney University) he’s slapping all the boys on the back saying, ‘C’mon, let’s go. Let’s get this last try!’.

“We’ve also got some good young backs. It’s really their developing year to see whether they go through.”

They’re young, fresh, dynamic and seemingly getting better every week. But it must be remembered that this is a work in progress. People’s short and medium-term expectations should be tempered as the team and its players will have their growing pains.

Which they did just one week after that day out at Uni. Table-toppers Randwick strode into Forshaw Park and whipped the Rebels 34-5.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” Louden admitted prior to the game. “Not all is lost should we lose. Every game we’re taking as a learning curve. We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves.”

Measured words. And the words of a pragmatist who understands that cultural change does not yield results overnight. The focus for all Souths sides now is on the process, with Louden right in the middle of it.

“I’m very hands-on,” he says. “Obviously I’m leading first grade but because we’ve got this one-club, bottom-up approach I’m there from fourth grade all the way to firsts. I’m in the huddle at halftime with all the teams.”

It’s all about the long-game for Louden and Southern Districts. But with the players and staff seemingly buying into the process, it won’t be surprising to see more good outcomes before too long.

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