Reece Hodge thrown into Wallabies hot seat

Darren Walton
·2-min read

Dave Rennie has thrown down the challenge to Reece Hodge to shed his tag as Australian rugby's modern-day Mr Fix It and cement his place as the Wallabies' chief playmaker.

Rennie shocked many on Thursday when he named Hodge to start at five-eighth, replacing 20-year-old rookie Noah Lolesio, for Saturday night's Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup battle with the All Blacks in Brisbane.

The utility ace has played every position in Australia's backline bar halfback during his 42-Test career - but only once in the No.10 jumper.

He nailed nine conversions from nine attempts that afternoon in a 63-30 victory over Japan in Yokohoma and Rennie is confident Hodge's boot - and experience - will also come in handy against the All Blacks.

A week after conceding Hodge's versatility "probably" counted against him sealing a starting spot, the Wallabies coach said the 26-year-old now had the chance to prove five-eighth could be his best position.

"He's got an impressive skill set - a big-kicking 10, a big goalkicker," Rennie said.

"Because he's played a lot in midfield, he defends very well and he's a big man so he can carry.

"So probably not unlike the guy he's going to mark on the weekend, Beauden Barrett, who tends to carry a lot of ball in that channel.

"So this is an opportunity. It was mentioned last week he's been a jack of all trades and filled a lot of holes and maybe this is an opportunity to establish himself."

Having pledged not to "throw Noah under the bus" following Lolesio's forgettable debut in last Saturday's 43-5 loss, Australia's heaviest defeat ever against New Zealand, Rennie defended his call to drop the youngster to the bench.

"We seriously looked at starting Noah," he said.

"He's got a really good skill set but that probably wasn't sharp enough on the weekend.

"But he's responded really well and we did consider throwing him back in but it's a very young group outside of Whitey (halfback Nic White) so we've gone with Hodgey.

"But we think Noah off the bench will be good for him this week and he's learnt a bit."

Selectors also considered Hodge at inside centre, but instead wanted to reward Hunter Paisami for his strong debut series against the All Blacks.