Wallabies coach Davie Rennie is adamant he has “no regrets” about picking the second-string side that lost to Italy last week and increased already intense pressure on him ahead of a showdown with the world’s best team this weekend.
But he’s gone back to the big guns for Sunday morning’s clash with Ireland, calling on Michael Hooper, skipper James Slipper and first-choice halves pairing Bernard Foley and Nic White among 10 changes to the Wallabies starting side.
Jock Campbell is among the omissions, with Andrew Kellaway reinstated at fullback, Rennie declaring the Wallabies “let ourselves down and our country down” last weekend.
Rennie, who is contracted through to the end of the 2023 World Cup, is under extreme pressure to keep his job post the tournament despite strong player support for a coach White this week said was “phenomenal”.
The Wallabies have won just four of their 12 matches this year and two more losses to close out the European tour, against Ireland and Wales, would consign Rennie’s team to their worst calendar year since 1958.
But he said he was prepared to “take things on the chin” following last week’s loss to the Azzuri, the first for Australia in 39 years, declaring it was “right for the group” amid a tough European tour.
“I understand the fact that as head coach you‘ve got to take things on the chin,” Rennie said.
“It was our decision to pick that side last week and I still don‘t have any regrets around the men we chose.
“It was right for the group, it‘s right for the future, we need to provide opportunity for them and we need to share the load.
“It was a side that was good enough to win and we didn‘t, so I’ve got to take responsibility for that.”
By recalling the first-choice players for the clash in Dublin, Rennie said it was time for his men to “make a statement”.
“I know we‘ve got a very determined squad, we want to make a statement this weekend,” he said. .
“We’re still hurting from last weekend but we have to move on and the only way to do that is a response against the Irish.
“They’re a very good side, but that’s exciting. We get to test ourselves against the top-ranked side in the world.”
Despite being $4.20 outsiders to topple Ireland, Rennie refuses to believe the Wallabies aren’t without a chance of taking down the Irish, with three Tests so far this tour all decided by just a single point.
“We won‘t talk about being underdogs,” he said.
“There‘s no doubt we’re playing the top side in the world. We’ve talked a lot about us and what we need to put on the park to get a result and we know that’s important.
“We let ourselves down last week, we let our country down and we’re keen for a response.”
Former Australian sevens star, winger Mark Nawaqanitawase, is the only rookie to retain his starting spot from the Italy debacle. Rennie said he wanted to “give him another crack”.
“Some of our guys are getting to understand his skill set, his ability to offload. The decisions he made to offload were good ones, but we’ve got guys around him looking to go and clean out and look after him,” he said.
“His aerial stuff is phenomenal on both sides of the ball. And he‘s a big man who’s actually got a bit of post-tackle presence, so we need to get him a bit of ball.”
WALLABIES: Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Tom Wright, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Frost, Allan Alaalatoa, David Porecki, James Slipper (capt). Reserves: Folau Fainga‘a, Tom Robertson, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Jordan Petaia.