Wallabies coach Dave Rennie would have been a satisfied observer on Saturday night as two crucial pieces of his Rugby World Cup puzzle appeared to slot into place.
Jordan Petaia put on a dazzling display for the Queensland Reds against the Fijian Drua at fullback as coach Brad Thorn finally gave him an overdue run in the No.15 jersey.
“He’s the most freakish athlete I’ve seen on a football field since I saw Wendell Sailor play,” Morgan Turinui said in commentary for Nine and Stan Sport.
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Petaia scored a sizzling first half try and, just as importantly, showed his defensive capabilities with a textbook try-saving tackle as the Drua began to mount their stirring comeback in the second term.
The now 22-year-old starred at outside center for the Wallabies against England in the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals.
He is equally adept on the wing but Wallabies legend Tim Horan has long called for him to get a run at fullback where he can have more overall influence on the game.
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That would allow Samu Kerevi and Hunter Paisami to combine in the centers at next year’s World Cup.
“The Reds are a totally different team with Hunter Paisami at 13,” Horan said.
“The way he straightens the attack up, gets across the advantage line. He’s got size both in attack and also in defense. I really enjoyed his passing game tonight.”
After the thrilling win over the Drua, Thorn revealed that he had planned to play Petaia at fullback earlier in his career but resisted after Kerevi told him the Reds needed a bigger voice in that role.
Bryce Hegarty and more recently Jock Campbell have been keeping the No.15 jersey warm.
Thorn found it hard to describe one of the best games of the year so far.
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“How good for Fijian rugby and footy,” Thorn said.
“It was bizarre, hectic, end-to-end and there was actually some really good rugby.
“For our team, a game like that can be a challenge because there’s space and there’s opportunities but you’ve almost got to rein it in a little bit.
“Keep your patience, don’t overplay – that’s probably how I would assess that.”
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