Hodge set for midfield switch

Date published: October 20 2016

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Wallabies utility back Reece Hodge could find himself lining up in midfield in Saturday's Test against the All Blacks in Auckland.

Australia's head coach, Michael Cheika, has left it a day later than usual to name his team for the Bledisloe Cup Test but defence mentor Nathan Grey revealed that Hodge could be in the mix for a shift to 12.

Hodge has played five Tests for the Wallabies and started in four, all on the wing, but played almost every position in the Rebels backline during the Super Rugby season.

The 22-year-old’s preferred position is in the centres and Grey said he was 'definitely' in consideration for that role on Saturday.

"We've been trying guys in different combinations at training and trying to find how we can best maximise the talents of the guys that we have amongst us,” he told the Australian Rugby Union's official website.

"“He's got a lot of experience playing in that position obviously at Super Rugby and also being on the wing for us a number of times this year.

"It's a good option to have there."

Grey said there wouldn’t be any hesitation in playing Hodge at inside centre, with his familiarity in that spot at Super Rugby level and in defence for the Wallabies.

"His skill set, he's a big body, he carries the ball very well and he's got a good passing game that he uses and he's got good speed, so all those attributes are very positive to have in a 12," he added.

"He defends there, in at 12 anyway for us, so he's used to being in that environment."

If Hodge is moved, it would likely mean a return to Bernard Foley at fly-half, with Quade Cooper out of the starting side, with the door opened for a specialist winger like Henry Speight or Sefa Naivalu to start.

Grey said the back-line combinations would all be made with the All Blacks’ formidable defence in mind.

"Obviously we're looking for the best possible makeup of how we can attack these guys," he said.

"Obivously, there's not very many holes in their defence.

"They're a very strong defensive side, so we want to have a good look at everything and make sure that we've got everyithing right before we go ahead and make a decision."

Any changes would be the first to the starting Wallabies back-line since Hodge’s run-on debut in Brisbane against South Africa more than a month ago, though one was already guaranteed with the departure of scrum-half Will Genia to his club in Europe.

While the suspense of delaying the team announcement might be intriguing fans, vice-captain Michael Hooper said the players had faith in the process.

"It'd be silly to say we haven't trained in combinations," he said.

"We know, we're comfortable working with each other and how that could play out but I mean he's doing it for a reason and the outcome is going to be the best he thinks we can get from it."

David Pocock has trained fully in Sydney this week but whether he will start on Saturday is not entirely clear, but Hooper said his back row team-mate hadn’t shown any rust despite a month out of the game with a broken hand.

"It's like he hasn't missed a beat," he added.

"Dave's always physically in great shape but he’s come in, skills are right up, intent's right up and he's keen to get on the field.

"(Lopeti Timani) had a cracking game in Twickenham.

"Whatever he (Cheika) decides to go with is going to be…what he thinks is going to get us the win over here in what the team hasn't done in a long time."

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