'Different aggressive creatures': Analysing Dave Rennie's squad for France

Dave Rennie will set about making some different Wallaby "creatures" over the next couple of weeks as he attempts to add a ruthless streak to his squad ahead of the three-Test series with France.

Rennie on Sunday unveiled a 38-man squad for the series which will be contested over 11 days from July 7-17, with the three Tests to be played in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, pending further dramas in the Victorian capital.

There were several shock inclusions due to both injury and form, while the final back-row cut proved particularly brutal for Liam Wright and Pete Samu who were left out.

Here are some of the major takeaways from Sunday afternoon's announcement.

Perese has grabbed the headlines but Foketi was doing the work

Izaia Perese was always going to be hard to overlook, that was until he suffered a serious shoulder injury against the Chiefs on Saturday night which saw him depart Brookvale Oval after 13 minutes and later head to hospital.

The injury is a particularly brutal blow for both player and the wider Wallabies squad, with Perese offering a genuine tackle-busting edge at outside centre to join an impressive mix of Matt To'omua, Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau as midfield options.

Rennie told reporters on a Zoom call that it "doesn't look good for Perese" before giving the hard-running centre's Waratahs teammate Lalakai Foketi a big rap for his performances in a NSW team that went winless through 2021.

"I think Lalakai has been excellent since he's back in and there's been a lots of talk about Izzy Perese but Lalakai has actually created a lot of opportunities for others around him," Rennie said. "He's got really good feet and we think he's gone really well."

Rennie will also have versatility across the midfield and back three through the selection of Rebels utility Andrew Kellaway, who had only just returned to the domestic scene at the start of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Kellaway had been particularly strong over the Rebels' final two games of the Trans-Tasman competition, proving effective in both attack and defence; his chase and tackle to deny Crusaders star Will Jordan a try in the corner showing the work rate and determination Rennie wants his players to have.

"And then Andrew Kellaway has obviously come in late with a few [injuries]; Jordie Petaia we were looking at as a winger, Suliasi [Vunivalu] out as well, we were looking for someone who could give us a bit of versatility back there," Rennie said.

"Obviously he played 13 yesterday, and played really well, defended excellently. He's got genuine gas and he's got a kicking game, can play 15 and wing. So yeah he fronted when it mattered and ended up getting the nod."

Sio, Naisarani got the message and went to work

Rennie had earlier this year selected a training squad of 40 players for a three-day camp in Sydney, both to double down on some of the messaging from last year but also to "get a look" at some new players. That led to the selection of the likes of Josh Kemeny, Tim Anstee, Seru Uru, Trevo Hosea and others who had yet to taste the Wallabies environment.

It also meant that guys like veteran prop Scott Sio was overlooked while players like Isi Naisarani -- who was included in April -- had already been on notice around key work-ons like workrate.

Both men finished the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman strongly, with Sio getting the nod as the third loosehead option behind another veteran in James Slipper and the hugely impressive Angus Bell.

"That was a position that was really competitive. James Slipper who hasn't been played during the Trans-Tasman stuff but has been getting smashed [on the training paddock], and will be ready to go next week," Rennie explained at loosehead.

"So along with him and Angus Bell, they were two that we were certain and the third one [there] has been a lot of competition for. Tom Robertson has gone pretty well, especially from a set-piece point-of-view; we liked what we saw from Cameron Orr and Harry Johnson-Holmes offers something different.

"So there's been a lot of competition for that spot and Scotty's actually fronted really well in the last two weeks when it's counted and he gets first crack at it, and his job is to convince us that we've made the right decision and then we'll reassess after the French tour.

"But what we know is he's a good athlete, he's got a lot of experience and he's certainly scrummaged a lot better in the last two weeks which probably tipped the scales."

On the other side of the scale, Rennie confirmed the Wallabies staff do see Hosea as a genuine Test contender but that the Rebels lock needed to work harder on his repeat efforts and spend less time "getting back up off the ground". That message has again been relayed to the 24-year-old lock.

Lock contingent not as light as many thought

There had been calls for the Wallabies to utilise the updated Giteau Law option by selecting the likes of Will Skelton and Rory Arnold this season.

It was always going to be tough for the series against France given the duo's commitments with their respective French clubs, who are going deep into the Top 14 season, but it may have been an option for the Bledisloe Cup or Rugby Championship.

But given the collection of locks Rennie named on Sunday, and that in-form Brumbies second-rower Cadeyrn Neville is to come back from injury, there no longer appears to be a compelling case to send an SOS overseas.

Last year's Rookie of the Year, Matt Philip, is currently serving out the backend of his first week in quarantine and he joins Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Sitaleki Timani and Darcy Swain as the lock options against France.

Izack Rodda, meanwhile, has also spent the last season in France following his acrimonious split with the Queensland Reds. Rennie confirmed Rodda was considered, but explained that Philip's work last year had placed him higher in the pecking order along with the local locking contingent.

"Yep, with Matt Philip, he was one of our best performers last year, great in regard to carry, work ethic, cleanout, he ran our lineout, so he was really impressive," Rennie said. "He's already made a commitment to go to France prior to being selected in the Wallabies, for one season, and was always keen to come back. So we've looked at it almost like a sabbatical like Hoops where he's ducked away, he's played a bit of footy and he's available to come straight back in.

"And obviously Izack has signed for 2022 which makes him eligible for us and we just thought from a pecking order point-of-view Matt's ahead of him. But it doesn't mean that Izack can't fight his way back in. And I've been really impressed by the fact that he's come home, he's come home for a fraction of the money he was on previously, so while there's been lots of talk about him leaving for money it's not about that.

"So he's not out of the picture but we wanted to promote some of the guys that were here and Matt Philip's an important part of that equation."

Defence, defence, defence

When the Wallabies gather on the Gold Coast on Tuesday they will have a tick over three weeks to prepare for the first Test in Sydney on July 7.

The recent Trans-Tasman series makes for ugly reading from an Australian perspective -- the ledger finished 23-2 in favour of the New Zealand teams -- with the Brumbies, Reds, Force, Rebels and Waratahs found wanting across a number of areas.

While intensity and effectiveness at the breakdown will be a focus, Rennie confirmed it was on defence where the Wallabies will really go to work. The Australian teams collectively conceded 146 tries in 25 games of the Trans-Tasman or an average of 5.84 five-pointers per game.

France may not offer up the same scintillating play as the individual New Zealand Super Rugby outfits, but there needs to be a dramatic defensive shift made within the Australian camp regardless.

"The next couple of weeks there's a lot to do around detail but between all our sides we've leaked an enormous amount of tries," Rennie said. "So getting a real identity around our defensive purpose is going to be really important.

"We want to play a really attractive brand of footy and we want to play smart. So we want to make sure our skills are really accurate so we're not turning the ball over. We want to have a smart game through kicking so we can apply pressure, but we've got to defend really well. And so the quality of our tackling and the ability to get back on our feet and keep working hard for each other is important.

"We've seen patches of it and some teams have been better at it than others, but that's going to be massive focus for us."

And with that comes the ruthless streak Rennie desires, getting a group of fine men to find that hardened edge that perhaps sees them take on another not so "good", but indeed angry, form.

"It's just a bit of ruthlessness, it's something we talked about last year and I think we've got good men in our group who when they cross the chalk we want them to become a different creature, aggressive and competitive.

"And so I think that is a big part of defending, wanting to get out and physically dominate to create opportunities for us to attack off. It needs to be a big part of our DNA."

That's no issue for Swinton, but it has created a problem for him

One man who already has the aggressive streak is Waratahs back-rower Lachlan Swinton, but that has also already earned him a four-game ban at Test level on his debut international match last year.

And the firebrand blindside is again in hot water having got a cleanout wrong against the Chiefs in Sydney on Saturday night. Swinton was sent from the field late in the contest following a Television Match Official interjection and he will now front a SANZAAR judiciary hearing to plead his case.

Rennie confirmed the Wallabies would contest the charge and there is even the situation that any suspension could be partially served with the help of some Shute Shield games. But the Wallabies coach also believes Swinton has a decent case to plead, and doesn't want the one-Test back-rower to try and dumb down his aggressive edge.

"I look at that cleanout last night and he didn't have a big run-up getting in there cleaning out someone who was vulnerable," Rennie explained. "He's trying to get underneath the guy who's pilfering, who's Lachie Boshier, to get him off the ball and it's a really concern for me going forward.

"I think it's really important the whole head contact protocols, and we've got to stamp that out of game, but in cleanout if we're trying to get underneath people there's gonna be head contact every time.

"So I think in his situation, I would have thought a yellow card would have been a bit more appropriate given other decisions we saw made over the last X amount of weeks around head contact.

"So he needs to be more accurate [but] we don't want him to lose that aggressive edge."