Rugby-Wallabies hopeful Vunivalu ruled out of France series

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Wallabies hopeful Suliasi Vunivalu has been ruled out of the three-test series against France with a hamstring strain but coach Dave Rennie has downplayed injury concerns for flyhalf James O'Connor.

Rennie told Australian media that Queensland Reds winger and rugby league convert Vunivalu would face at least two months on the sidelines.

"It is reasonably significant," Rennie told the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.

"He definitely would have been in the mix (for selection)."

Vunivalu's Reds team mate O'Connor missed out on his 100th Super Rugby match against the Auckland Blues over the weekend due to a neck problem and has been ruled out of their last Trans-Tasman match against the Hurricanes.

"He’s been getting stingers for the last four or five weeks so it just came to a bit of a head in the previous game," Rennie told reporters on the Gold Coast.

"He’s going to miss this weekend but we anticipate he’ll be alright."

Rennie said he had picked 80% of his squad for the France series, which starts on July 7 in Sydney, but players will have a last chance to impress in their final Trans-Tasman matches this weekend.

He said he would still consider players who had signed overseas contracts, including France-bound hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, despite the possibility they become unavailable in the long-term due to eligibility restrictions.

Rennie can pick only two overseas-based players who have not met the Wallabies' 60-cap threshold, a rule aimed at preventing a talent drain from Australian rugby.

Some pundits have called on Rugby Australia to ease the restrictions to strengthen the Wallabies, who have slumped to seventh in the world rankings and were dumped out of the 2019 World Cup in the quarter-finals, matching their worst performance at the tournament.

Rennie did not pick any overseas-based players last year and on Thursday backed the curbs as "really important" for domestic rugby.

"If we’ve got our best players with our good young kids coming through, it’s going to improve the quality of the clubs and the quality of our competition," he said.

"If we pick wholesale, as South Africa and Argentina do, from Europe and Japan, players will go (overseas) in their droves because they can get three times the amount of money."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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