It has been a frustrating first international campaign for high profile code hopper Suliasi Vunivalu, but he gets a chance to prove his worth ahead of the Spring Tour when he heads to Japan as part of the Australia A team next month.
The Queensland Reds winger played less than two minutes for Dave Rennie’s Wallabies this year – junk time in the loss to England at Sydney.
While hamstring injuries have hampered his time in rugby union, he has also failed to win Rennie’s favour, with suggestions that he could be more impressive at training.
Vunivalu will be named on Wednesday as one of 35 players to head to Japan for three games. Team sources say a number of Wallabies will be selected including some in the current squad that have had limited game time. Those include Vunivalu, Lachlan Lonergan and Pone Fa’amausili with the full complement named at midday AEST.
While it has been a frustrating year for Vunivalu, former Wallabies halfback and The Roar columnist Will Genia suggested Vunivalu hasn’t shown enough to deserve a place just yet and this will give him the chance.
“He has to earn it,” said Genia, who appeared on the The Roar Rugby Podcast on Wednesday.
The Roar writers Brett McKay, Harry Jones and Will Genia talk Australia A and the Bledisloe Cup
“He hasn’t played much footy. He’s quality, he’s a world class athlete. He’s got to earn it in the performances that he puts in in training and when he plays Super Rugby. And he’ll know that.
“He’s come from a Melbourne Storm system where it’s all about hard work and earning your opportunities. I don’t think anyone should just be given the opportunities because of what their reputation is in rugby league, winning premierships or whatever. You come into the environment and you’re just as fresh and just as green as everyone else.”
Genia said Vunivalu was also faced with tough competition.
“Marika is the best winger in the world. No one’s taking his spot,” Genia said. “Tom Wright has been excellent. And Andrew Kellaway coming back in at fullback is very good, and Jordie Petaia as well.
“So you’ve got to perform but you’ve also got to out-perform the guys around you and in front of you and also rely on them not playing well. That’s the reality of his situation.”
Genia said he “loved” the Australia A concept for what it can do for the Wallabies depth, while keeping potential back ups in better game shape.
“Those guys haven’t played a whole lot of footy. For someone like Suliasi who’s had soft tissue injuries, you can do all the training in the world but you’ve got to get out there and be playing games to be able to condition your body to handle it.”
With his hamstring injuries, Vunivalu was restricted to a handful of games for the Reds this year. He extended his deal with Rugby Australia until after the World Cup, but he’s done little to suggest he will be in Rennie’s plans there.
Genia says some players need to be playing games.
“I’ve heard things that he’s a poor trainer and if it’s not I’ll sit here and apologise,” Genia told The Roar podcast.
“I played with George Smith – he wasn’t a poor trainer but whenever we did a fitness test, he’d come last. But
then you put him on a field and he’s an absolute machine.
“There are guys like that that just need to be playing week in week out to be able to condition their body and to sharpen them up. That’s what I love about the fact that we’ve got this Australia A program.”
Genia said on his first Spring Tour the Wallabies took 40 players to Europe.
“When you’re away for five weeks and those guys just train without the opportunity to play games, it gets tough, boring and mundane,” he said.
“You’re obviously privileged to be in that position but you’re never actually really practicing anything that you are going to use in match conditions or in high pressure situations that are going to serve you well to grow as a player.
“It’s essentially five weeks of holding pads or running opposition attack against the Wallaby defence and things of that nature. So it can be quite a tough slog and you can sort of feel a little bit stunted in your growth as a player.
“This program helps the Wallabies also in the sense that they can manage guy’s workload. It provides a lot of opportunities and provide the guys a pathway to get to the Wallabies who aren’t a Michael Hooper or a Quade Cooper or a Samu Kerevi. The guys who might be thereabouts, but they need to have another look at a level above Super.”
Rugby – The Roar