Some players hate being a utility. This Wallaby takes pride in it
Reece Hodge has been effective for so long playing multiple roles in any given back line. It’s when he stays put for too long that things go wrong.
“This was the first (Super Rugby) season I played one position all year, and then I missed the (Wallabies) squad, so you know …” Hodge said.
Hodge is kidding but the value of the 27-year-old’s versatility was highlighted yet again at the weekend in Mendoza when he was called into action to replace the injured Quade Cooper at five-eighth. The Wallabies were trailing at the time but via Hodge’s steady hand, and nine points off the boot, the visitors surged back in the last 30 minutes to beat Argentina in Mendoza.
“The whole week I had prepared to cover anywhere from No.10-15, you are kind on high alert on a 6-2 bench when you are covering all the backline positions except nine,” Hodge said.
“It is obviously shattering for Quadey and getting him back from what had been a month out. He was playing so well in that first half and he is so good for the group, just seeing how happy he was being back playing Test footy, it is pretty hard to take for the whole squad.
“I was gutted for him but once I saw it happen I just had to go into nailing my role.”
Argentina’s Santiago Carreras is tackled by Reece Hodge in Mendoza.Credit:AP
The composed stewardship shown by Hodge was all the more remarkable given he was, only eight weeks ago, overlooked by the Wallabies selectors. For the first time since first being named in a Wallabies squad in 2016, Hodge got a call from the coach to explain why he was not selected in the 35-man group for the England series in July.
“It was communicated they thought I had a bit of mixed form throughout the year with the Rebels and they wanted to see a few different guys in the environment, and that it was a good opportunity for me to go and play some footy for Australia A,” Hodge said.
“It hurts, you always want to be a part of it. But I think I was pretty quick to take a holistic view of the situation.”
When you have been asked play every position in a Wallabies back line except halfback, you become good at dealing with curveballs. Hodge just applied the same attitude: keep working, be ready.
Harry Wilson and Reece Hodge at training after recalls to the Wallabies side.Credit:Getty
“It is something that Quade has also talked about a lot in the last 12 to 18 months: focus on the process. It is a bit of a cliche but it comes back to that ‘be ready’ kind of thing,” Hodge said.
“It wasn’t a down-in-the-dumps moment where you think it’s all over. I have been around long enough now to know it is never as good as it seems and it is never as bad as it seems. That’s the attitude you need to take in professional rugby.”
Soon enough Hodge was called back into the Wallabies squad via injuries, replacing Tom Banks and then Andrew Kellaway. He started the third Test against England at fullback and his versatility gave Rennie scope to name a 6-2 bench for the first time in Mendoza. Australia’s bench forwards, it must also be noted, secured the win.
Reece Hodge in the clear against England at the SCG.Credit:Getty
Hodge is one of three options to replace Cooper in the second Test but, in all likelihood, Rennie will keep Hodge up his sleeve as the perfect bench cover.
Some players have hated the utility tag but others, like 121-Test Mr Fix-It Adam Ashley-Cooper came to enjoy it. In truth, it is a specialty all of it own and not many players are good enough to competently play four different roles in four weeks of Test rugby.
“It is up to the coaches and as I have said previously, I am happy to play anywhere,” Hodge said.
“And I don’t just say it for the sake of it. It is a position I don’t take lightly, that the coaches have trust in me and my knowledge and detail that I can cover 10 to 15.
“I take a lot of pride in that but I need to also make sure I am prepared for any role. Who knows what this week holds but to be part of the match-day squad anywhere would be a privilege, as always.”
Watch every match of The Rugby Championship on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Continues this weekend with South Africa v All Blacks (Sunday 12:30am AEST) and Argentina v Wallabies (Sunday 4:45am AEST). All matches streaming ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.
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