Hodge gets Argentina redemption shot as Rennie calls on ‘Mr Fixit’ ahead of JOC at No.15

Reece Hodge will be named in the Wallabies’ No.15 jersey today replacing injured Tom Banks, with Dave Rennie opting for the Melbourne Rebels utility ahead of James O’Connor.

The selection for Saturday’s match against Argentina is sure to revive memories of last year’s Rugby Championship, where Hodge was Australia’s goal kicker. Twice he failed to land late penalties to win drawn games against Argentina, having also done so against the All Blacks.

With Quade Cooper established as the Wallabies kicker, Hodge should be spared a similar fate this weekend, as long as Cooper stays on the park.

Reece Hodge of the Wallabies

Reece Hodge (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Hodge took over at fullback when Banks suffered a fractured forearm against South Africa on Saturday and played 50 minutes, kicking well but showing some signs of instability under the high ball.

His versatility has helped him past 50 Test caps but he admitted recently he would have liked to have made a place his own.

Hodge came back from an injury this season to play on the wing against France as a replacement when Filipo Daugunu broke his arm.

He was considered a chance to replace Noah Lolesio at No.10 before Quade Cooper returned in stunning fashion in the first Test against the All Blacks.

With Banks out for at least six weeks, Hodge can lay claim to the No.15 for an extended run through the northern hemisphere tour with an outstanding performance on Saturday.

He recently was asked about his failure to secure a regular starting spot and where that might be.

“I don’t know. It’s a question I’m constantly asked and don’t know how to answer it to be honest,” Hodge said.

“I’m happy to fill that utility role … (but) whether that’s 10, 15, anywhere really, you want to be playing as many minutes as possible for your country,” he said.

“Hopefully I can just make the most of any minutes I’ve got over the last few games and just keep pushing for that starting team.”

Rennie has rewarded Hodge for his efforts.

“He fills holes all over the place and maybe that’s his frustration,” he said recently. “He’s Mr Fixit and he’s played just about every position outside of 10 this year. I know he’s keen to pin down a spot and he’s certainly applying pressure.”

While Hodge is locked in at 15, O’Connor is expected to get his first action of the series off the bench.

There could also be a return to the starting side for Sean McMahon at No.6 in the back row, along with Rob Valetini at No.8 and Michael Hooper.

The return of McMahon, 27, due to a relaxation of the Giteau Law has caused a buzz around the Wallabies camp. It was probably hyperbole, but Rennie suggested McMahon was the fittest player available to him, despite 14 days quarantine.

“Oh, he’s very mad,” Samu Kerevi told Big Sports Breakfast of McMahon, revealing he has a fresh tattoo ‘ETW’ for ‘earn the weekend’.

“He doesn’t care what jersey he has on or who you are,” said Kerevi.

“He’s kind of like a raging bull; awesome to have on the team, but you’d never want to play against him.”

McMahon last played for Australia in 2017. A win on Saturday would be the side’s first three-game run since they won four in a row as part of a seven-game unbeaten stretch that same year.

That was also the last time five-eighth Quade Cooper was marshalling the side, the No.10’s shock recall this month proving a masterstroke from coach Dave Rennie.

Kerevi said Cooper’s matured approach alongside 100-plus Test veterans Michael Hooper and James Slipper was permeating through an otherwise youthful squad.

“A guy like Quade, who’s played over 70 Tests, has had had a lot of growth in that area and for him it’s about staying at that same arousal level,” Kerevi said.

“It is that mental battle; (whether) winning or losing … playing at that mid level, understand we’re not trying to fire up for a ‘big’ game and not for a ‘small’ game.

“We have to come with the same preparation.”

(With AAP)

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