AUSTRALIA head coach Dave Rennie has brought some of his most experienced players back into his team to play Scotland on Sunday, with Rory Arnold starting at lock, Will Skelton as second-row back-up on the bench and utility back Kurtley Beale also among the substitutes. All three are based in France, and although they only joined up with the Wallabies squad recently, the former Glasgow Warriors coach is convinced they have got up to speed quickly and can make valuable contributions.
“They’re very passionate, desperate to play,” Rennie said of the trio. “We didn’t want them coming in and feeling their way in: they’ve got a lot of experience and we wanted them to come in and contribute immediately.
“They’ve been great. They’re highly motivated. It’s good to get some fresh legs in – guys who can share the load.
“Kurtley has been fantastic. He’s a bit to get his head around – he’s potentially covering 15, he’s covering 10. He looks sharp. He probably thought his Wallaby dream was over, so it’s exciting for him and for his family.
“We just felt with Will coming off the bench, he’s a beast and will give us really good impact,” the coach continued when asked why he had opted to start with Arnold instead of Skelton. “I coached against Will when I was at Glasgow and he was at Saracens. He was a beast then, makes a massive impact, and we’re looking for the same thing from him on Sunday.”
With tighthead prop Taniela ‘Tongan Thor’ Tupou also named among the substitutes, Rennie appears confident he will get a consistently high-energy 80 minutes from his squad. “We just felt this game was right to have Taniela off the bench,” he added.
“We’re fortunate we’ve got two high-quality 3s. Al [starting tighthead Allan Alaalatoa] is very good around maul and maul defence – he’ll give us plenty of work rate early. Hopefully Taniela gives us power and X factor off the bench.”
It is barely a year and a half since Rennie left Scotstoun to take up his new post, but in that brief time he has seen significant developments in the Scotland team. “They have grown, I reckon. They’ve obviously got a forward pack that can be hugely competitive, very good post-tackle, they have a strong defensive game and they probably kick a bit more than they did. We’ve seen a lot of those players – Finn Russell, Ali Price, Stuart Hogg – who have been around for a long time. It gives them a lot of strike power and experience.
“We’re looking forward to it. We’ve watched a lot of their footy recently, all the Six Nations games. I thought they had a really strong tournament. They were a late penalty away from beating Ireland and got pipped with 14 men against Wales. They beat the rest. They were very close to winning it.
“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for them. They will be very well prepared. I know the coaching staff well, so they have a very strong coaching group. We are very well aware they will throw a few things at us.
“I think all teams know that Finn has a strong run, kick, pass game. He can do it all if you give him time and space. We need to limit his time and space: that’s going to be crucial for us.”
The last time the teams met, Scotland exploited the extra space to devastating effect after Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu was sent off shortly before half-time, winning 53-24. Rennie insisted that 2017 game had not been the focus of too much discussion this week, but suggested that the Australians had not been aware enough of the Scottish threat that afternoon at Murrayfield.
“There hasn’t been a lot of talk about it. There are a handful of guys who played in that game. We’re pretty much focusing on what we’ve got to do now and haven’t reflected too much on the past.
“I imagine there are a couple of scars there for those who played in it. I think they underestimated Scotland. There was a red card that probably made things tougher for the Wallabies, but it was a Scottish team that can hurt you and it’s pretty similar to what we’re going to face this weekend.”
Australia (v Scotland at BT Murrayfield, Sunday 2.15pm): A Kellaway; T Wright, L Ikitau, H Paisami, J Petaia; J O’Connor, N White; J Slipper, F Fainga’a, A Alaalatoa, R Arnold, I Rodda, R Leota, M Hooper (captain), R Valetini. Substitutes: C McInerney, A Bell, T Tupou, W Skelton, P Samu, T McDermott, K Beale, I Perese.