By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – With long-serving Wallabies hookers Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau out of the selection frame for the first time in years, rookie Jordan Uelese believes it is his time to wear the “old man pants” and front up to Ireland in the June test series.
The 21-year-old Melbourne Rebels front-rower has made only two Wallabies appearances off the bench, but has been thrust into a potential starting role against the Six Nations champions, with Moore having retired and Polota-Nau rested.
Uelese could be packing down against 111 caps of experience in Rory Best, who led the Irish to their grand slam triumph. Best’s Ulster deputy Rob Herring and Leinster’s experienced Sean Cronin are also in Joe Schmidt’s squad.
“Obviously last year I was with Taf and Moorey, some of the most capped hookers in the country so it’s going to be a bit daunting at first,” Uelese told reporters on Tuesday, a day before Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was due to name his squad.
“It’s going to be a bit different not having that older head. But I think it’s definitely time to grow up and time to (wear) the old man’s pants and take care of myself, so (I’m) very excited.”
Former Wallabies skipper Moore, who played the last of his 129 caps away to Scotland in November, tipped Uelese to push for the number two jersey at next year’s World Cup in Japan after his strong 2017 Super Rugby season.
However, the Wellington-born talent has had a tough campaign this term and spent the last four weeks sidelined with a shoulder injury.
In his place, the late-blooming Anaru Rangi has proved a revelation at hooker after crossing to the Rebels from the defunct Western Force, and losing a stack of weight in the process.
Uelese said he was delighted for the beer-loving Rangi and hoped the pair of them could make Cheika’s squad.
“He’s just a nutcase. He’s definitely someone you want in the team,” Uelese said of Rangi. “Especially if you want to push physicality and brutality, he’s definitely the guy you want in your side.”
Schmidt declined to spare any of his ageing stalwarts the trip Down Under, naming a strong side as the Irish look to continue a 12-match winning streak and clinch their first win in Australia since 1979.
Australia were whitewashed 3-0 by the then Six Nations champions England in 2016, the last time they hosted a three-match series, and they look vulnerable to another successful raid from a northern hemisphere power.
Uelese described Ireland as “a great set-piece team” and said the Wallabies forwards would need to step up.
“Footy over in Europe, it’s all based around set piece, scrum, lineout. It’s more so about (being able to) muscle up as a tight five and show them what we’re worth.”
Australia host Ireland in the series-opening test in Brisbane on June 9.
(Editing by John O’Brien)