Dave Rennie: Players will exit 'in droves' with foreign eligibility change

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has rejected calls that Rugby Australia [RA] should allow players to be picked for national duty from overseas.

As he prepares to name a 38-man squad on Sunday, Rennie is having to navigate his way through some injury setbacks, with Suliasi Vunivalu and Jake Gordon the latest to join a growing list of sidelined stars that also includes Jordan Petaia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Cadeyrn Neville, James Slipper and Reece Hodge, though the latter two could be right to see some action against France.

Outside of Neville at lock, where the Wallabies appeared to be a little light on for depth earlier this year, Australia appear to be relatively injury-free. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Darcy Swain, Sitaleki Timani and Trevor Hosea -- the four second-rowers selected in Rennie's training squad in April -- are all fit and firing while the likes of Nick Frost and Ryan Smith have also thrown their hats in the ring with solid performances in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

And then there is the fact that Matt Philip and Izack Rodda are heading home to take up Super Rugby contracts next season, making them immediately eligible for Test selection once they are back in the country after their Top 14 commitments have concluded.

But the Wallabies' growing depth across a number of positions hasn't stopped the debate around picking players based overseas, or further tweaking the Giteau Law, with Stan Sport commentator and former Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell earlier this week saying the policy was holding Australian rugby back.

"I don't buy into the narrative about players have signed overseas so we shouldn't pick them, this is our best representative team in the country, we should pick whoever's available," Mitchell told Stan Sport's Rugby Heaven.

"And where we are as a game in this country and up against different sports, we need wins. We need to win against this French team that's coming to visit our shores, so pick the best team that is going to be able to beat this team in the immediate future.

"You can't disregard someone because they have chosen to go overseas. We do it with coaches, coaches come from overseas...we need to win games, so they need to pick the best available."

Mitchell referenced hooker Lachie Lonergan in stating his opinion, suggesting he was talking about departing Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, who is eligible for the Wallabies this season but may slip down the pecking order as his future lies overseas.

Otherwise, both Sean McMahon and Samu Kerevi were part of a Suntory Sungoliath team that made it all the way to the Japanese Top League final, while Will Skelton and Rory Arnold have both had impressive seasons in France's Top 14. All are contracted to their overseas clubs again next season.

Asked about Mitchell's comments on Thursday, Rennie was adamant there would be no change forthcoming under his watch, predicting any such move would lead to players departing "in droves" given the huge financial rewards on offer across Europe and in Japan.

"It's the dangers of doing that and the effect it'll have on our local game," Rennie said. "I honestly believe if we open the gates ... that will have an effect on our game here on Super Rugby teams.

"It's what happened in South Africa. They had a mass exodus of their top players. If we open the gates and pick wholesale then the lure of the Yen and the Euro [is huge] and the difference in money is phenomenal.

"Players will go in their droves because they can get three times the amount of money. It'd be difficult to keep people here."

RA tweaked the Giteau Law last year to allow for two players who do not meet the 60-cap threshold to be picked from overseas, but Rennie did not exercise the option for either the Bledisloe Cup or Rugby Championship.

And he confirmed that would again be the case for the series with France next month, saying all 38 players to make the squad will have been based in Australia this season or are returning to Super Rugby next year as is the case with both Philip [Melbourne Rebels] and Rodda [Western Force].

Another is Wallabies captain Michael Hooper who has completed his quarantine upon returning from Japan and is now preparing to lead Australia into battle against France.

There had been suggestions Hooper could come to the Waratahs rescue as they try to avoid a winless season but Rennie also shut that prospect down when questioned at RA's Rugby World Cup bid launch last month.

The Waratahs could really have used Hooper's experience but there would have been little to gain from the experience for the Wallabies skipper after his playing sabbatical in France. As well as skipper Gordon, the Waratahs will be without hooker Dave Porecki, fullback Jack Maddocks and props Harry Johnson-Holmes and Angus Bell for their Trans-Tasman clash with the Chiefs on Saturday night.

In discussing his potential squad Thursday, Rennie said that "20 percent" of his list was still to be locked in, giving players one final opportunity to impress in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman this weekend.