Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says he has “no regrets” over Samu Kerevi’s Commonwealth Games participation, despite the powerhouse centre suffering a season-ending knee injury while on sevens duty in Birmingham.
The decision to give Kerevi a second shot at a major international sevens medal – he contested the Olympics in Tokyo last year – raised eyebrows when the plan was announced earlier this year, particularly given just how much he had improved the Wallabies’ fortunes in 2021.
Fears that Kerevi could suffer an injury while at the Commonwealth Games were then realised late last week when he left the field following a seemingly innocuous tackle against Uganda, with scans earlier this week confirming the worst.
Still, Rennie says that even with the beauty of hindsight, such had been Kerevi’s desire to rejoin his sevens teammates that he would not have refused the request to contest the Commonwealth Games.
“Samu’s the one who’s hurting more than I am obviously,” Rennie replied when asked about Kerevi’s injury.
“It’s been really tough for him. I was part of a decision making from the start. When I first spoke to Samu about coming back we were checking was he keen to be a Wallaby and he was; was he keen to go to the Commonwealth Games and he was desperate to go to that, and we thought it was a great opportunity to go and contribute, help them win a medal.
“We don’t regret the decision. That’s footy. He has a freak injury and does an ACL. We’re gutted for him, he was devastated. But it was the right decision for Rugby Australia.”
While injuries can happen in any given moment in any different match, the wisdom of letting arguably the Wallabies most important player jump back into the sevens environment after three brutal Tests with England has been widely questioned.
And it now puts the brakes on what could have been an informing run of matches for the Wallabies, at least in that it would have provided some insights into whether Kerevi’s partnership with Quade Cooper was the right course for Rennie to pursue in the run to next year’s World Cup.
Kerevi will now however have only a handful of games before next year’s tournament in France, the centre racing the clock to see any League One action with Suntory in Japan before what would likely be just three Rugby Championship Tests before the World Cup.
Kerevi’s misfortune however is to the benefit of both Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau, the rising midfield duo now getting an opportunity to string multiple Tests together after initially first pairing up on the spring tour last year.
“We’ve got a clear plan of how we want to play and while Hunter and Lenny are less experienced than someone like Samu, they’ve been around a while now and have played a fair bit of footy together,” Rennie said of the midfield pairing he has named to face the Pumas this weekend.
“They’re no longer rookies and that’s the expectation of them. We expect them to deliver and they’re good players who have prepared well.”
Following injuries to Cooper, Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Jordie Petaia and now Kerevi, Rennie will be hoping his wretched run of luck in the backline – and across the squad for that matter – will cease in Mendoza this weekend.
Certainly, the Wallabies, having opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, will be sweating their backline fragility on Saturday night.
“You could always say it’s a bit of a risk in that you lose a back early on, and you’re under a little bit of stress, but we just felt that the battle up front is going to be really important,” Rennie said of his bench.
“They’re a good side. They’ll be really combative. We’ve got genuine guys who can change the game on the bench as well and give us go forward and then defensively give us massive work rate. We tossed it around a fair bit before we committed to it.
“Jed [Holloway] had a significant calf tear so we don’t see him going massive minutes. So to have someone like Robbie Leota on the bench and still Pete Samu gives us a bit of flexibility there. And if we got under a little bit of heat, ‘Pistol’s’ [Samu] quicker than most of our backs anyway, so we’ll slot him out wide.”