Dave Rennie says Australia had doubts about Jack Dempsey’s physicality

Dave Rennie has revealed that Australia nursed doubts about Jack Dempsey’s physicality but acknowledged that the Glasgow Warriors player had worked hard to improve that aspect of his game.

Australia head coach Dave Rennie. (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)
Australia head coach Dave Rennie. (Photo by MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP via Getty Images)

Dempsey, who was capped 14 times by the Wallabies, has switched sides and is now committed to Scotland for whom he qualifies through his maternal grandfather.

Rennie, the Australia coach, has been keeping an eye on the No 8 who left his homeland for Scotland shortly after Rennie was appointed. Dempsey won the last of his Aussie caps at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and is able to play for Scotland because of a change to eligibility regulations which allows players to change sides if they have not played Test rugby for three years.

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“We’ve watched him closely while he’s been away and he’s certainly always been a really good athlete, great with ball in hand,” said Rennie ahead of Saturday’s match at Murrayfield between the two sides. “We always felt he lacked a little bit of physicality and we gave him that feedback and I know he’s worked hard on that and we’ve seen it prosper and blossom at Glasgow. He’s a really good player and I know he’ll be keen as to get among our boys, he knows a lot of them really well.”

Dempsey has been a dynamic presence in the Glasgow side since joining from the Waratahs in summer 2021 but Rennie gave the impression that Australia had moved on.

The match at Murrayfield is the Wallabies’ first of a five-Test tour and they have named a strong side, with a recall for Michael Hooper, their former captain. The openside flanker asked to return home when the Wallabies were in Argentina at the start of the Rugby Championship and later explained it was because of family and mental health issues. In his absence, James Slipper took over as skipper and retains the captaincy.

Hooper’s return sees Rob Valetini move to No 8 with Jed Holloway at blindside. In the backs, there is a recall for Tate McDermott at scrum-half, partnering Bernard Foley at stand-off. Tom Banks starts at full-back after recovering from a broken arm, with Andrew Kellaway moving to the right wing.

Rennie said Australia’s preparations had put a huge focus on discipline after they conceded a slew of penalties in last autumn’s 15-13 defeat at Murrayfield. “We’ve put a massive emphasis on discipline, mainly around what we can control - the offsides and the collision-based ones; you’re passive in the tackle and you end up on the wrong side or you’re slow and you give up a penalty post-tackle,” said the former Glasgow coach.

Rennie was suitably diplomatic when asked about Scotland’s strengths but pointedly flagged up their reliance on overseas imports. “There’s no shortage of talent coming through considering there are two contributing clubs,” said Rennie. “That’s always been the amazing thing, although historically they’ve recruited pretty well, with a fair few Aussies and South Africans wearing Scottish colours nowadays which has helped them create a lot of depth. We look back at the Six Nations and they had a good win against England, lost to France and Ireland, the two top sides in the world. I have a huge amount of respect for them and we’re well aware of what they can do.”

Australia: 15-Tom Banks; 14-Andrew Kellaway, 13-Len Ikitau, 12-Hunter Paisami, 11-Tom Wright; 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Tate McDermott; 1-James Slipper (captain), 2-Dave Porecki, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 4-Nick Frost, 5-Cadeyrn Neville, 6-Jed Holloway, 7-Michael Hooper, 8-Rob Valetini.

Replacements: 16-Folau Fainga'a, 17-Matt Gibbon, 18-Taniela Tupou, 19-Ned Hanigan, 20-Pete Samu, 21-Nic White, 22-Noah Lolesio, 23-Jock Campbell.



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