Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie admits the benefit of their injury crisis in 2022 is having elevated competition for places when all the players do return.
Rennie named his first squad of the year last week that saw the inclusion of several stars who are still recovering from injuries, including Samu Kerevi, Quade Cooper, Angus Bell and Taniela Tupou.
The injury crisis saw Rennie use a large number of Wallabies throughout last year, something the coach now sees as an advantage after having struggled through the difficult period.
“It’s the advantage of a lot of injuries, I guess, we’ve used a lot of players last year, and there’s more competition for places now, which is really good,” Rennie told Rugby Pass.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who would normally be in Japan recovering from long-term injuries so it’s nice to have Quade and Samu in here.
“It’s a massive year, it’s exciting. We’re going to light a fire over the next couple of days and work hard that we head up north in the best possible condition to play our best footy over the last four years.”
Despite the squad being filled with class and talent, there were two notable absentees in veteran James O’Connor and code-hopping Suliasi Vunivalu.
O’Connor struggled with both injuries and form at Test level during 2022 and is looking to use this year’s Super Rugby Pacific to play himself back into the squad – something Rennie has encouraged all his fringe players to do.
“I had a good chat to ‘Rabs’ (O’Connor) prior to us announcing the team,” he added.
“He’s come back from injury, back training fully and actually in really good nick running quicker than we’ve seen over the past couple of years.
“He looks sharper, so his focus is playing good Super Rugby and putting pressure on us to select him in the camp in April. That’s the message we’ve given to a number of fringe players.”
Stay consistently fit
Vunivalu, on the other hand, struggled throughout the year with a string of hamstring injuries but looked really threatening when he did play, earning himself a Test debut against England.
The Wallabies want to see consistent speed running without injuries. However, the former rugby league man has work to do after the impressive rise of Mark Nawaqanitawase in the Autumn Nations Series.
“Suli has got really clear messages,” Rennie said.
“We need to see him run fast. We need to see him open up and repeat of speed efforts. We know his ability aerially is excellent.
“He needs to put in good performances at Super level. He had a couple of runs with Australia A and needs to build on it.
“What we saw from Mark Nawaqanitawase is a man who’s equally good (as Vunivalu) aerially, but is good all over the park. His speed and repeat speed was excellent as was his post-tackle work and his defensive work.
“He grabbed his opportunity and played the best three games of his life at test level. The challenge for him is to make sure that he comes in and wants to be better. That’s the message he’ll get over the next couple of days.”
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