Reece Hodge kicks at the UCD Bowl this week. Ben Brady/INPHO

Wallabies boss Rennie aims for Ireland scalp after a coffee with Leo Cullen

Australia’s head coach knows his men need a ‘massive’ performance on Saturday.

IT’S EIGHT YEARS since Leo Cullen went down to New Zealand to visit the Chiefs but he has kept in regular contact with Dave Rennie ever since.

Rennie is now the Wallabies head coach so this week presented a great opportunity to catch up with Leinster boss Cullen in Dublin ahead of Saturday’s Test against Ireland.

Cullen and Rennie sat down for a coffee yesterday. Despite the obvious Leinster influence in the Ireland matchday 23, Rennie insists it wasn’t helpful in that sense.

“He didn’t give me anything yesterday that’s going to help us on Saturday,” said Rennie this afternoon, although Cullen did tell him just how much of “a thorn in the side” Will Skelton has been for Leinster.

When Rennie was in charge of Glasgow from 2017 to 2020, he and Cullen would meet for a beer or a meal the night before their teams played.

“They’re always good those conversations because you’re just talking about footy, sharing ideas, and what they’re focusing on at the moment,” said Rennie today.

“They’re helpful when you’re not playing each other because you can be a little more open.”

Rennie will also have a chance to catch up with Bundee Aki, his former Chiefs player, on Saturday but his main concern right now is getting the Wallabies back to winning ways after last weekend’s first-ever defeat to Italy.

dave-rennie Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Rennie’s win record now stands at 37%, so the heat has come on him from back in Australia this week after he made 11 changes to his team against Italy.

Rennie’s players have come out in support of him in recent days and while he has appreciated that backing, he knows that criticism comes with the territory the Wallabies find themselves in.

“I understand the fact that as head coach you’ve got to take things on the chin,” said Rennie. “It was our decision to pick that side last week and I still don’t have any regrets around the men we chose, it was right for the group, it was right for the future.

“We need to provide opportunity for them and we need to share the load, and it was a side that was good enough to win, and we didn’t. So, I’ve got to take responsibility for that. But I know we have a very determined squad who want to make a statement this weekend.”

Rennie has made 10 changes as he reverts to the bulk of the first-choice side that very nearly beat France in Paris two weekends ago.

The Wallabies travelled on this tour without at least eight injured players, including Quade Cooper and Matt Philip, while Tom Banks and Lalakai Foketi have picked up injuries in recent weeks.

Rennie has resisted any temptation to give Skelton a start in the second row, with the La Rochelle man instead picked as part of a very powerful-looking Wallabies bench for Saturday.

“He’s a big man, he bullies big men, so his impact is going to come off the bench and obviously the plan is to try and finish strong and finish over the top and he’ll be an important part of that,” said Rennie.

fraser-mcreight-throws-to-darcy-swain The Wallabies work on their lineout skills in UCD. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Rennie stressed that his Aussie team need to be much better disciplined this Saturday, kick well, control the territory as much as possible, and put Ireland under consistent pressure. He knows that’s all easier said than done against a team as good as Andy Farrell’s.

Rennie points to Ireland’s short passing game, their ability to identify weak inside shoulders to make linebreaks, or move the ball to width, and Farrell’s astute coaching. He knows they need a special performance to win on Saturday.

“After last week, it would be massive,” said Rennie. “What we know is that it’s going to take a massive 80-minute performance. But we’re highly motivated, we’ve had a good week of preparation, we’ve got a pretty fresh squad who are determined to put in a performance that indicates the sort of character within the group.

“We’ve talked about being a lot better than last week and we owe that to our supporters back home.”

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