Rugby League

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie to monitor key Super Rugby AU battles as focus turns to national selection

With just five regular rounds of Super Rugby AU remaining, the Wallabies picture has started emerging for new coach Dave Rennie.

The Brumbies’ front row, Queensland’s backrow, the poise of James O’Connor and punch of Marika Koroibete will give Rennie some heart as he prepares for the Test season — either The Rugby Championship, or a series of Bledisloe Cups against the All Blacks depending on the COVID-19 situation next month.

In this weekend’s round six fixtures, Rennie will be particularly keen to see how some of the emerging crop handles their one-on-one battles against Wallaby front runners.

The Melbourne versus Brumbies clash on Friday, followed by the grudge match between NSW and Queensland on Saturday, will feature several champions versus contender battles that could have major ramifications for how the Australian Test team shapes up.

REBELS v BRUMBIES

JORDAN UELESE V FOLAU FAINGA‘A: The try-scoring hookers will play a huge role in the result of this clash. Fainga’a will be Australia’s starting No. 2 unless he suffers injury, but Uelese can pressure him and also cement his position above Queensland’s Brandon Paenga-Amosa in Test calculations if he continues his impressive return from injury.

Fainga’a leads the tournament with four tries while Uelese has two.

But it’s Uelese’s work around the park that has been particularly impressive; he’s made two breakdown pilfers and has had nine effective ruck involvements — equal fifth in the comp — while his work in the scrum has been exemplary, forcing 10 penalties, second only to Taniela Tupou.

Jordan Uelese will be looking for a big game against Australia’s starting No. 2.Source:News Corp Australia

JERMAINE AINSLEY V SCOTT SIO: There’s little doubt the Brumbies front row should be the starting trio for the Wallabies. But those who remember Melbourne’s last clash with Australia’s ladder leaders will be relishing this scrum battle.

The Rebels stunned the Brumbies to win five scrum penalties in that first round clash, won 31-23 by the Canberra side.

At just 24, Ainsley has time on his side to add to his three Tests played in 2018, but he must stand up against Sio and replacement loosehead James Slipper, who both should be in the Wallabies mix.

MARIKA KOROIBETE V SOLOMONE KATA: While Kata is not eligible for Wallabies selection, the collision of these two former NRL stars will be one of the most exciting individual contests of the round.

Koroibete is assured of a starting Wallabies spot if fit — he is the reigning John Eales medallist and has been tremendous so far this season.

He is fourth in the competition for run metres (297), third for post-contact metres (140), equal third for linebreaks (4) and equal second for tackle busts (13).

But Rennie will be keen to see him take it to another level, and Kata can provide the right challenge.

Kata has returned to start in the past two weeks after recovering from a hamstring injury. He hasn’t been nearly as damaging as Koroibete, but possesses the pace and power to force his rival to step up.

Having played international rugby league for New Zealand and Tonga, as well as 93 NRL games for the Warriors, the 104kg Kata has shown glimpses of his best since switching codes this year and will be in the frame for Tonga when they pick a Test team.

Michael Hooper had his colours lowered by Liam Wright the last time they met.Source:Getty Images

WARATAHS v REDS

MICHAEL HOOPER V LIAM WRIGHT: Incumbent Wallabies captain Hooper would have to be favourite to don the No. 7 Australian jersey again, but the pressure Wright is piling on is immense and this individual battle will be telling.

Wright, the 22-year-old Reds captain, outshone Hooper in their previous encounter, although Hooper has been consistently excellent throughout 2020.

Wright has 19 effective ruck involvements so far, the highest of any player, with Hooper second on 12. Wright also leads the comp for pilfers (4), with Hooper just behind (3).

It is Wright’s lineout prowess that has set him apart from the other Aussie backrowers so far, however. He has the most lineout wins on the opposition throw across all players (4) and is equal third for lineout wins (14).

JAMES O‘CONNOR V WILL HARRISON: Surprisingly, this is an old bull versus young buck affair. It’s strange to view O’Connor in those elderly terms — he is just 30 — but he is now the veteran playmaker in the country alongside Matt To’omua.

Both should be in the Wallabies, while 21-year-old Harrison is attempting to break through in his debut season.

O’Connor is in fine form, leading the comp for try assists (3), try involvements (5) and linebreak assists (7), while also making the most kick metres (1567).

But Harrison is the equal top pointscorer alongside To’omua with 47, and has a 90 per cent goalkicking success rate.

This is his chance to show Rennie he can dominate the big dog.

Taniela Tupou (right) is certain to give Tom Robertston plenty to think about.Source:AFP

TOM ROBERTSON V TANIELA TUPOU: It’s been a frustrating couple of years for Robertson, who last played for Australia in September 2018 against South Africa, before injuries have hampered his progression.

There is no better test in the scrum right now then against Reds giant Tupou, who leads the tournament for most forced scrum penalties (12) and is a handful with ball in hand.

Robertson, 25, needs to show some serious muscle in this battle to give Rennie another loosehead option.

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Originally published asChamps v contenders: Who makes cut for Wallabies?

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