The missing trait Rennie demands in wide-open fight for No.15 jersey, and how he sees Quade back up battle

CARDIFF – Ten months out from the World Cup, Dave Rennie says he knows who he wants as his No.10 but the Wallabies coach admits the No.15 jersey is wide open.

Rennie announced his final matchday team of the year on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s (AEDT) clash against Wales at the Principality Stadium, with Ben Donaldson and Tom Wright notable selections in the No.10 and No.15 jerseys respectively.

With just five Tests before next year’s World Cup, the match against the ninth-ranked side on the World Rugby rankings represents one of the last occasions for Rennie to experiment before needing to nail down his selections.

It is why delivering a strong performance will carry extra weight because it is the last chance for players to impress before the new year.

After Quade Cooper was chosen to wear the No.10 jersey for the first Test of the season against England in July before being a last-minute scratching, Donaldson will be the fifth player to wear the No.10 jersey in 2022, the first time so many have been used there in one year in the professional era.

By comparison, England have played either Marcus Smith or Owen Farrell in the role while New Zealand have used just Richie Mo’unga or Beauden Barrett.

All the while Noah Lolesio, who was promoted off the pine in Perth against England and wore the No.10 for the rest of the series, has been named on the bench for the second straight week.

It led to the natural question, does Rennie know who his preferred No.10 is for the World Cup.

In one word Rennie answered it: “Yes.”

While the New Zealand coach did not extend on his comments, it’s understood Cooper is Rennie’s first-choice point guard.

Rennie believes Cooper is one of the few players involved in Australian rugby who can deliver his game-plan. It is why he sent James O’Connor back to club rugby following the Wallabies’ record defeat in Argentina, which came a week after Cooper went down with his season-ending Achilles injury.

Yet Rennie also wants to find out who his second and third choice options at No.10 are, particularly given Cooper is no certainty to recover in time for the World Cup.

It is why Rennie, who was Aaron Cruden’s mentor for years at the Chiefs, wants to have a look at Donaldson.

“No, I would say, we want to find out about Ben,” Rennie replied when asked about whether Lolesio was now behind Donaldson on the No.10 pecking order.

“The assumption is Quade will be fit and available hopefully, so we obviously know a lot about him, a lot about Bernard (Foley), we’re going to find out a bit more about Ben. His versatility helps, too. He can play 15, he is certainly quick enough to play back there and we’ve got Noah who’s got a fair bit of experience now to come into the game late.”

But just as wide open is who will wear the No.15 jersey, with six different players – Tom Banks, Jordan Petaia, Reece Hodge, Wright, Andrew Kellaway and Jock Campbell – used in the crucial role. Kurtley Beale, meanwhile, ended last year’s Spring Tour in the position before missing much of this year because of injury.

It comes as no surprise Rennie’s response to whether he knew who his preferred fullback was heading into next year.

“No,” he shot back.

He added: “What we’ve found out this year – because we’ve used a lot of 15s – is we’ve got some genuine strong options there now.

“We’ve played Andrew Kellaway there, we’ve played Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Jordy was down to play there at one stage. We’ve used Hodgey back there. We’ve used Jock Campbell. We’ve genuinely developed some strong options back there now. But as to who’s got the nod from a World Cup point of view, it’s pretty tight.”

Rennie opted for Wright, who has shown flashes of brilliance at fullback amongst some glaring errors, ahead of the consistent and under-stated Campbell against Wales.

But Rennie said Campbell, who will come off the bench, was by no means out of the picture moving forward but considered Wright’s voice important among a quieter, less experienced backline.

“We definitely discussed playing Jock,” Rennie said.

“We just felt if we played Jock and Mark (Nawaqanitawase) and Jordy, there’s not a lot of voice there and that’s going to be really important.

“We could have moved Tom to the wing and left one of the other guys out but they were both excellent last week and we wanted to give them a chance to start together.

“Jock’s very much in the mix. It’s the modern game, so he’ll make a contribution but he it’ll be off the bench. ”

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