Wallabies midfield in focus: Who partners Samu Kerevi against England?

The one-month countdown to the first Test between the Wallabies and England has officially begun, with anticipation of the three-game series starting to build across the country.

Eddie Jones will arrive Down Under with England later this month, while Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is set to announce his own squad in the coming weeks.

Read on as we continue our Wallabies: Position in Focus series, this time analysing the options Rennie has in the midfield at both inside and outside centre.

The incumbents: Hunter Paisami [12], Len Ikitau [13]

Paisami and Ikitau finished 2021 as the Wallabies midfield combination, the duo starting all three Tests in the United Kingdom, which Australia dropped to Scotland, England and Wales respectively.

Paisami's recall came after Samu Kerevi had opted not to tour the U.K. and instead remain in Japan to prepare for the League One season with Suntory Sungoliath.

After a quiet outing against Scotland, Paisami and Ikitau began to gel as a combination against both England and Wales, Paisami enjoying a brilliant game in Cardiff in particular which saw him run for 63 metres off 12 carries with three clean breaks and a try-assist.

April training squad: Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Izaia Perese

Just the four centres were included in Rennie's squad that met on the Gold Coast earlier this year, although Jordan Petaia, James O'Connor and Reece Hodge have also spent time in the midfield across their various careers.

Foketi made his debut off the bench against Wales last year while Perese also saw time in the U.K. and provided the surging run from the wing that led to Rob Leota's try against Scotland at Murrayfield.

Kerevi was not named due to his ongoing commitments with Suntory at that point.

On the fringes: Matt To'omua

The veteran inside back was the high-profile omission from the Wallabies' training squad named in April, though that was not a complete surprise given the Rebels' poor start to the season and To'omua's own shift to No. 10 at that point.

Rennie has long said he believes To'omua is best suited to inside centre, choosing him in that position in his first few Tests in charge in 2020, but the emergence of Paisami and return of Kerevi have seen To'omua shuffled back down the pecking order.

At 32, To'omua's Test career looks to be in the balance, it may take a succession of injuries in the midfield for him to return to the Wallabies this year.

The storyline: Who partners Samu Kerevi?

Such was his impact in the Rugby Championship, it really is that simple for Dave Rennie and his fellow selectors for the first Test in Perth.

As Wallabies great Tim Horan told ESPN last year, Kerevi changed the way Australia were playing with his ability to consistently get the team going forward and lay a wonderful platform that eased the pressure on Quade Cooper.

When the Wallabies got static, it was Kerevi who got them going forward once again.

The former Reds skipper has also benefited from his time in Japan and with the Australian Sevens team, to which the Sydney Morning Herald reports he plans to return for the Commonwealth Games in late July.

Kerevi wrapped up his Suntory commitments last Sunday, the team beaten by Marika Koroibete's Panasonic Wild Knights in the League One final.

Given how well they performed together against the Springboks and Pumas last year, Ikitau looms as the favoured partner for Kerevi. The Brumbies centre offers more of a point-of-difference to Hunter Paisami, although both men possess an invaluable left-foot kicking option as well.

The wildcard in the pack is Perese, who was in devastating form for the Waratahs before he suffered a knee injury against the Hurricanes. Perese was close to returning for the quarterfinal against the Chiefs on Saturday, but he failed a fitness test midweek and will have to rely on NSW securing the upset win if he's to get another chance to push his claims for selection.

Perese's attacking numbers in Super Rugby Pacific before his injury made for impressive reading. From 14 games, the Waratahs centre ran for 750 metres, made eight clean breaks, beat 40 defenders and added 19 offloads. Meanwhile, he missed the lowest number of tackles of the trio with 17.

Ikitau has also played 14 games ahead of the Brumbies quarterfinal against the Hurricanes, running for 569 metres with five clean breaks, 23 beaten defenders, four offloads and 20 missed tackles.

Paisami has had issues with injury this season but will take his place on the Reds' bench for their quarterfinal with the Crusaders. Previously this season he had run for 751 metres, made six clean breaks, broke 19 tackles, and threw three offloads while missing 20 tackles across nine games.

Whatever route Rennie and Co. decide to take, it's clear the Wallabies have three genuine options at outside centre while Paisami also offers cover at No. 12. Lalakai Foketi is also there to deputise for Samu Kerevi, but the powerhouse centre again looms as the focal point of a Wallabies backline that made some significant gains in 2021.

And they will no longer have to confront the power running of Manu Tuilagi, with the England centre opting for a post-season procedure rather than a tour Down Under with England.