Sports

Reds ace commits to Wallabies despite Hooper roadblock, ex-manager says he’ll be best No.7 in world


The hype surrounding Queensland Reds flanker Fraser McReight has been building all season, and on Tuesday it may well have peaked.

After another dominant display in a losing Reds Super Rugby side at the weekend, former Wallabies manager John Connolly compared the 23-year-old, twice-capped Wallaby to a legend of the game in Richie McCaw.

It’s just Dave Rennie’s luck that the man considered by many judges to be the most exciting player in Australian rugby is currently playing in the same position as the best player in Australian rugby.

There have been suggestions that Rennie should try to fit both into the Wallabies setup, but balance issues mean it’s unlikely they could fit into the same pack, or even the even 23 with the versatility of a Pete Samu who can cover all positions across the backline.

McReight, 23, has played just 32 minutes of Test rugby and Hooper has 117 caps – and is aware that George Gregan’s Australian record of 139 is incredibly close. His desperation to play every minute of every game is legendary.

There have been suggestions that McReight is itchy, as he was told during Reds training on Tuesday, with concerns in the game that he could leave for an overseas club if durability and Hooper’s excellence continue to block his path to a gold jersey.

(Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

“I made it clear that I wanted to play for the Wallabies,” McReight said on Tuesday.

“Every time I go to the Wallabies camp I try my best and everyone knows who is involved. It’s not like I don’t want to be here because I really want to be here.

“It’s more about playing the best football I can and making my case, which I certainly have been. Dave and the coaches always tell camp they want a tough call and I definitely made it on my side. If I can keep doing that and keep making my case, hopefully I’ll get a few more minutes and go from there.

Rugby writers including Georgina Robinson and Wayne Smith, both in the Sydney Morning Herald, and Brett McKay in Tuesday’s The Roar column, have suggested Hooper may need to start sharing to give McReight more opportunities and keep it invested. He is under contract until the end of next year’s World Cup, and offers are steadily pouring in from Japan for top Australian talent.

And on Tuesday, Smith cited Connolly, a Queenslander, as giving a resounding reference for the youngster.

“McReight is McCaw-esque, and I say recognizing McCaw was among the two or three greatest rugby players I’ve ever seen,” Connolly said.

“Australia have been well served by open flanks in the past, with Greg Davis, Simon Poidevin and Jeff Miller leading through the George Smith-Phil Waugh era and then David Pocock. Now McReight is poised to become that golden thread.

“I’m impressed with Hooper’s grit and tenacity, but he’s not as good on the ball as McReight, nor does he provide the connection [in attack] What does McReight do. McReight fits right into the modern game. He will be considered the best openside in world rugby.

On Friday, McReight gets another good test of his development over the past two seasons when he takes on Sam Cane of the All Blacks and Hurricanes.

“He’s the captain of the All Blacks and he’s done a lot,” McReight said when asked about the game.

“He’s a physical person, a good ball player, a traditional New Zealand No.7. Obviously he’s played and done a lot and he’s got a lot of experience.

“I haven’t had the chance to play against this caliber player for a while – I haven’t had to play Hoops for a while, him having been abroad, and it’s going to be a great test for me if I line up against him.

“It will be a personal battle with him, but I just have to do what’s right for the team and the team comes first.”

Pressed as to his level of excitement at the approach of such a contest, McReight decided to tone down the hype.

“It’s not like I’m really looking forward to it – it’s just another game. Probably getting closer to the match it’s going to concern me a bit more and that’s because you’ve talked about it and there’s comparisons the media is going to make about this battle – but it’s not really there,” he said.

“I just want to do what’s good for the team and if I can play my normal game I know we’ll be fine against each other.”

Despite being the Reds’ MVP for the past month, McReight says he hasn’t made any significant changes to his game this campaign.

“These are minor changes – weren’t drastic at all,” he said.

“Working on the tackling side, running a bit more at rugby, putting myself in better positions, whether it’s on the breakdown, in the tackle, whether it’s attacking rugby or supporting play.

“I think that’s probably the most important aspect of number 7, you have to be in the right position, so it’s about getting the top places faster and I think I’ve done better this year. .”

Brett McKay wrote on The Roar: “Where he has really improved this season is his linking and passing game. His supporting game is definitely better too.

“I don’t know what kind of adjustments Dave Rennie should make to his Wallabies game plan to fit McReight in and get him off the bench to finish games alongside Michael Hooper, but surely we’ve reached the point where the conversation needs to be had.

“And it’s not even a question of whether he passed Hooper or not; he’s probably playing too well now to leave out.

A coach like Eddie Jones might be more willing to upset the balance of his squad and opt for two smaller, more mobile loose forwards – the way he managed Tom Curry and Sam Underwood in the same back row in 2019.

But Rennie has so far seemed reluctant to give the extra height and weight of an alternate flanker – said Rob Valetini who is 10 centimeters and 13kg taller than McReight.

For now, McReight is trying to stay focused on Super Rugby, making his case through his continued top performances and trying to shine in a side that wins against Kiwi opposition.

“We made a big point that we don’t want to fight,” he said.

“If they beat us and they are better that day, congratulations to them, but we can’t beat ourselves. We have to give our best and we try to do that.

“Every week we want to be better on the pitch, not just for ourselves but for our fans, that’s the goal. We’re back at home and it’s an opportunity – let’s do it for 80 minutes and hopefully – achieve this victory.




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William

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