Wallabies coach Dave Rennie must unearth four champions to accompany Jordan Petaia in trophy search


Dave Rennie needs to unearth five world-beaters in the next four years.

Without that, he won’t win the Bledisloe Cup or the World Cup.

In his quest to find the quintet of matchwinners, he is ruthlessly punishing every mistake made by his Wallabies squad members, in order to create a culture of unrelenting excellence.

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At present, Rennie has one genuine global superstar in his Wallabies squad; Jordan Petaia. If the young centre’s body holds up, he will be Australia’s 2023 World Cup linchpin.

The other four? That’s unclear.

Rennie won three successive under-20s World Cups with New Zealand, from 2008-10, though had a mountain of talent at his disposal.

It isn’t so with the Wallabies, but nor was it the case when he took charge of the Chiefs in 2012, one year after they’d finished 10th in Super Rugby.

What Rennie did successfully to lead them to back-to-back premierships in 2012-13 was bring through rising champions, while reinvigorating proven performers, and squeezing the best out of players who had been left on the scrap heap by others.

In 2009, a young Aaron Cruden helped the New Zealand under-20s win the World Cup under Rennie. While he’d make his Test debut the following year, Cruden was floundering at the Hurricanes.


Rennie signed him for 2012.

He also signed a proven performer, Sonny Bill Williams, from the Crusaders.

Williams had played in the Super Rugby final in 2011 alongside Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. Few expected that he, and not the legendary trio, would be holding aloft the trophy in 2012.

Cruden and Williams carried the Chiefs backline for their maiden premiership.

But it wouldn’t have been possible without a dominant forward pack.

Rennie had an established champion at his disposal in Liam Messam.

He was then able to cultivate two youngsters, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick, into competition-leading stars.

Cane and Rettalick, members of New Zealand’s 2011 under-20s World Cup-winning side, stepped up to Super level with ease.

So, Rennie had his big five; Cruden, Williams, Messam, Cane and Rettalick.

Around them, the squad thrived.

Grizzled lock Craig Clarke was made co-captain alongside Messam, allowing the dynamic backrower to lead with his deeds while Clarke was measured in his communication with referees.

The unlikely championship front row was Sona Taumalolo, Mahonri Schwalger and Ben Tameifuna. You couldn’t have given them away to other Kiwi franchises before 2012, with questions about their weight, work ethic and ability under pressure answered comprehensively under Rennie’s tutelage.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence to see James Slipper, playing his 100th Test on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in the dead-rubber fourth Bledisloe Cup Test, thriving in the Wallabies’ No.1 jersey.

Slipper was second-fiddle to Scott Sio in the Brumbies, yet has started every Test under Rennie.

After Sio missed a tackle on Jordie Barrett off the bench last week, leading to the All Blacks’ final try in their record 43-5 win, he’s been dropped from the squad altogether.

“We’ve been trying to put a bit of pressure on Scotty to bring more impact off the bench, through carry, through defence, he’s been scrummaging pretty well,” Rennie said.

“(The Barrett missed tackle) was more about urgency to connect with defenders around him, and he was slow to come forward and got exposed. It was a tough lesson.

“Belly’s been applying a lot of pressure, and we’re asking for more from some of those experienced boys. Scott’s paid the price this week.

“Having said that, it’s the best training week he’s had; carried really well, defended really well, so it’s helped create a little bit of edge around his game, which is what we’ve been looking for, for the past month.”

Rennie also indicated that had Dane Haylett-Petty not succumbed to injury, error-prone winger Filipo Daugunu would also have been left of the 23.

“Filipo needs to treasure the ball a lot more, the consequence of that is him being on the bench,” Rennie said.

And, without saying it in black and white, Rennie explained why replacement hooker Jordan Uelese has been replaced on the bench this week by Folau Fainga’a.

“We defended really well after halftime for about 25, 30 minutes, we’d defend well for five or six phases, get a penalty, get down there, turn it over immediately,” Rennie said.

“That cycle happened three or four times, and eventually the All Blacks kicked a penalty and then punished us from a turnover on the lineout in the 70th minute, so they’re tough lessons.”

So this weekend Lachlan Swinton, Tom Wright and Angus Bell get first chances.

Daugunu and Noah Lolesio get second chances off the bench.

Fainga’a, Liam Wright and Tom Banks get chances for redemption.

Reece Hodge and Hunter Paisami get chances in new positions.

Around them, Michael Hooper, Harry Wilson, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Matt Philip, Nic White and Marika Koroibete must step up from consistent to proven performers.

Among this team, and those in the wider squad, four must join Petaia as capable of being named in any World XV.

They won’t scale that height anytime soon.

But Saturday gives an opportunity for some to take that first step.



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