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Wallabies coach Dave Rennie insists he is a glass-half-full person who is not being weighed down by speculation his job may be on the rocks, the Kiwi also standing by his decision to make wholesale changes versus Italy which he hopes will pay dividends against Ireland on Sunday morning [AEDT].
Rennie has recalled all of the big guns he rested in last Saturday’s shock loss to the Azzurri, with skipper James Slipper and first-choice players Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Nic White, Bernard Foley, Dave Porecki and Jed Holloway all restored to the starting XV.
Even with the return of those players, who bring over 400 caps of collective Test experience, the focus will squarely be on Australia’s discipline and whether or not they can limit the number of “dumb-arse penalties” they give away, which was a real issue in Florence last week.
“That’s a big part of it, we had three penalties for guys taking chasers out off the ball, which is a lack of trust,” Rennie explained of his side’s woeful run of discipline. “So we’ve got to be smarter than that.
“Simple off-sides, losing races around cleanout; it’s not one thing, it was a series of things last week and in the end that and a number of turnovers from a variety of sources hurt us. What we know at this level, we’ve got to be better, we’ve put a massive focus on it, and we expect to see it better on the weekend.
“In a review we always have a section around discipline and what we call dumb-arse penalties, so DAPS, and they’re controllable. So we’ll highlight that and individuals are responsible for making shifts there, and ultimately for some of it will come down to selection and that’s been the case for one person this week.
“So we’ve just got to be better and, as I’ve said, you can’t knock over the best sides of the world if you’re giving 14 [or] 15 penalties away.”
Last week’s 28-27 loss to Italy, Australia’s first in 19 Tests versus the Azzurri, took the Wallabies’ season record out to 4-8 and they are now staring down their worst international season since 1958.
While each of their spring tour fixtures have incredibly only been decided by one point, pressure is mounting on Rennie with Rugby Australia executives set to review the team’s performance once they return from Europe.
While it is expected Rennie will be retained should Australia drop both of their closing Tests
They face Wales in their 2022 finale next week – a tweak to the way Wallabies teams are selected could limit Rennie’s ability to choose the team he wants.
Certainly many have questioned his decision to rest 11 players against Italy, but the coach is standing by that call and happy to wear the criticism that has been stinging, including comments from former Wallabies skipper Stirling Mortlock who declared Australia a “train wreck.”
“I think the big thing is, there’s certainly pressure on me, but if I put that pressure back on staff and our players that’s not going to help us on the weekend,” Rennie replied when asked how he was handling an increasingly dire situation.
“So the key thing is we’ve got to keep looking forward, we’ve got to get better. And like I said some of the decisions we’ve made is what I think is best for the long-term future of the team, but you’ve got to wear the results.
“I’m a half-glass full type of person, so I trust the players will respond and we’ll put in a good performance on Saturday.”
Sunday morning’s Test in Dublin will be the first time the Wallabies have faced Ireland under coach Andy Farrell, who earlier this year guided his team to a historic first series triumph in New Zealand.
They also concluded second in the Six Nations, losing only to Grand Slam winners France, and have climbed to No. 1 on the World Rugby rankings.
A win for the Wallabies, then, would be huge.
“After last week it would be massive,” Rennie said. “What we know is it’s going to take a massive 80-minute performance, but we’re highly motivated, we’ve had a great week of preparation, we’ve got a pretty fresh squad who are determined to put in a performance that indicates the sort of character that’s within the group.
“We’ve talked about that we are a lot better than what we performed last week and we need to show that, and we owe that to our supporters back home.”