Who should make Wallabies XV to play in Australia’s rugby union games against England?

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You don’t meticulously assemble a 40-man training squad, as Wallabies boss Dave Rennie did this week, without already having a draft Test starting XV for July 2.

Rennie’s planning is well underway for that huge date with Eddie Jones and England at Perth’s Optus Stadium.

Playing against England is one of the few match-ups for the Wallabies on Australian soil where the general sporting punter pays attention.

Usually, you have to beat the All Blacks or the Springboks, when they are World Cup champions, to grab that broader attention.

Beat England in this three-Test series and it will carry real bang. That’s exactly what the Wallabies and Australian rugby needs.

Rennie owns Australia’s horrid 0-8 run against England even though he’s only responsible for the last loss, the wasteful 32-15 trip at Twickenham last November. Being the coach who ends the nightmare would be a real feather in his cap.

More than once, Rennie made it clear before and at the camp that: “There are still opportunities to come through (late) into the squad like Andrew Kellaway did (in 2021).”

Andrew Kellaway scores a try

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

That’s eight rounds and finals in Super Rugby Pacific to make so much noise that your authority or skill can’t be ignored.

Taking a broad sweep, there are only a few capable of doing so.

The top candidate would have to be Queensland Reds winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who will likely have seven or eight games to show how good a finisher he is upon his imminent return from a long-term hamstring issue. He’s the mystery element.

Queensland Reds flanker-lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, off to Northampton Saints at the end of the year, would need a storming second half of the season against the Kiwi teams once he comes back from his high ankle sprain.

The form of experienced Melbourne Rebels playmaker Matt Toomua has improved but the caravan looks to have moved on.

Brumbies finisher Andy Muirhead or Western Force backrower Tim Anstee would need five-star efforts week on week to earn the training squad spots they had in 2021 but neither are starting XV candidates for July.

Your Test XV for July 2 is going to come from the 40 names already announced plus a dollop of Quade Cooper, Rory Arnold and Samu Kerevi from abroad.

Join experts Brett McKay and Harry Jones along with special guest Jonathan Kaplan on the latest edition of The Roar Rugby Podcast.

Now the “Giteau Law” has been supplanted by the “Kerevi Clause”, Rennie can use up to three players based overseas in any series or tournament.

That language is instructional in itself. Could Cooper play both the England series AND The Rugby Championship? It’s doubtful because he’ll certainly be wanted for the November tour of Europe as the big World Cup rehearsal tour.

Grabbing him for three blocks of Tests in five months would seem very unlikely seeing the Wallabies and Cooper’s Japanese club couldn’t get on the same page for the November tour last year.

If that’s the case, Rennie would back in-form James O’Connor and Noah Lolesio against England and hold Cooper back until TRC so he can be measured against his nemesis, the All Blacks.

That’s all conjecture.

The great thing is there are plenty of moving parts and selection puzzles to be solved before July 2.

Can you play both Rob Valetini and Harry Wilson in the same Test backrow when both are excelling in Super Rugby Pacific? When is Rob Leota going to re-surface because the mullet man did make some marks late last season?

Jordan Petaia may be an exciting, big-upside gamble at fullback against England or he may just be getting the high workrate lift right now that he’s needed to be a better Test winger.

The bigger winner in all of this may be NSW Waratahs hooker Dave Porecki. If his form holds against Kiwi opposition, he may be the one Wallaby debutant against England on July 2.

POSSIBLE WALLABIES XV (v England, July 2, Perth):

Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Andrew Kellaway, Quade Cooper, Tate McDermott, Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Valetini, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Taniela Tupou, Dave Porecki, James Slipper.

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