How do you fit three Wallabies hookers into one Super Rugby team?
That's the million-dollar question facing ACT Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar with Test-capped trio Folau Fainga'a, Connal McInerney and Lachlan Lonergan all on the books.
All three have a desire to play Super Rugby each week and Brumbies forwards coach Laurie Fisher says the club will need to make "huge decisions" recruitment-wise with an eye on the future.
McInerney is contracted until the end of the 2023 season while Fainga'a and Lonergan are both signed with the Brumbies until the end of 2022.
Rugby Australia's mooted move to a centralised model would see the governing body keep clubs from stockpiling elite talent in the same position, but for now the Brumbies will revel in an embarrassment of riches as they set their sights on the Super Rugby Pacific crown.
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Fainga'a has established himself as the Wallabies' first choice hooker on the Spring Tour, while McInerney joins him in the UK following his try on debut against Japan last weekend.
Lonergan has four Tests to his name at 22 years old but has stayed behind in Canberra for a Brumbies pre-season, with Wallabies mentor Dave Rennie keen to see shifts in his scrummaging.
"As we can see in all good teams, it's competition for places that gets the best out of people," Fisher said.
"To have that sort of depth, and to have Billy Pollard as a developing hooker as well, they're going to be huge decisions Dan will have to make selection-wise and potentially recruitment-wise heading into the future.
"Competition for places will drive performance and that's key."
Fainga'a admits "falling in love" with himself cost him his Wallabies jersey and he is determined to avoid making the same mistake following his Test recall, quickly emerging as Rennie's favoured option in the No. 2 jersey.
"He's probably playing a game that suits him a little bit, he's holding a bit of an edge, he's not necessarily doing the hard work through the middle," Fisher said.
"He's a skilful player, he has got lovely hands, he has got a really good appreciation of the game. He probably lost that over the last 12 months and he has really got that back. He's a real natural footballer so it's really pleasing to see what he is delivering at the moment."
Wallabies coaches have long seen potential in McInerney, who thought he'd just be "holding pads" on tour with the Australian team before forcing his way into the 23 despite being curtailed by injury this year.
"It was great for him to get that 10 or so minutes, and as he did say the game was in the balance there, a well-constructed maul and he got the benefit off the back of it," Fisher said.
"It'll be great for his confidence. You can tell he's not necessarily a guy that carries great self-confidence so good, positive moments are fantastic for him.
"The broken leg against the Rebels set him back. He got back for Trans-Tasman but obviously was behind the eight-ball then so it was a little bit of a wasted year for him unfortunately.
"But he'll finish on a particularly high note which is great going into next year."
Nipping at their heels upon a return to Canberra will be Lonergan and Pollard, who is seen as a promising prospect at Brumbies headquarters but has been set back by a niggling toe injury which was operated on in recent months.
Lonergan was a bolter in Rennie's Wallabies squad this year and has shown he can match it with the best in a raft of areas, but there is still a crucial element of his game he wants to take to the next level.
"He's an excellent young player but he's not where he needs to be scrummaging-wise," Fisher said.
"He's been found out a couple of times with knowledge and shoulder position, and I guess overall strength. Around the park he is excellent, his carry game, his skills with his hands, his defensive work, and his lineout throwing is superb.
"The importance of scrummaging, we saw how important it was to the Wallabies on the weekend to be able to get four or so scrum penalties, it really allows you to control a game. Where the Reds won Super Rugby AU was through the strength of their scrum."
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