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Eddie Jones had an unusual ace up his sleeve earlier this year when he’d get asked about Rory Arnold’s chances of being picked for the Rugby World Cup.
After Arnold’s club, the Hino Red Dolphins, withdrew from the Japanese competition due to a bar brawl scandal, the 32-cap Wallaby had nowhere to play and earn selection, short of walking away from a $1.4 million annual salary.
So with pointed one-liners about not picking people who work on the Hino Trucks factory floor, Jones put the onus on Arnold, and Arnold elected to stay put.
One reason Jones didn’t use a softer touch to cajole the tallest ever Wallaby into his World Cup mix was he had an alternate in mind, with the same 208cm dimensions: Rory’s twin brother Richie.
The lesser-known Arnold brother, who is an identical twin to Rory, had a slower start to his professional career but after stints at the Force and the Brumbies, Richie Arnold has been killing it for several seasons for powerhouse French club Toulouse. And on the back of outstanding European form, the 33-year-old lock was named in Jones’ first squad in April.
Listed among seven overseas-based players, Richie’s name made prompted a double-take from some – does he mean Rory? – but Jones later explained he’d been admiring Richie’s form for years and Toulouse coach Ugo Mola also gave a glowing reference.
Richie Arnold has been a regular starter for Toulouse for four seasons.Credit: Getty
The reference would be even shinier today, after Arnold started for Toulouse in their captivating Top 14 grand final win over Will Skelton’s La Rochelle on Sunday morning, in front of 80,000 fans at the Stade de France in Paris, the venue for the October 28 World Cup final.
There is no fluking your way into the starting forward pack of the strongest team in the world’s strongest competition. And Arnold — who is seven kilos heavier than his brother at 127kg — has started in 80 per cent of his 87 games for Toulouse, alongside French stars like Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.
Richie Arnold wins a lineout for Toulouse.Credit: Getty
So, Richie Arnold will fly into Sydney on Tuesday to join the Wallabies in camp, aiming to make Jones’ final cut for the Rugby Championship squad, named next week. His twin will be watching from afar.
“Rory and I are best mates, he is absolutely stoked for me,” Richie told this masthead a day before the Top 14 final.
“It’s good, I pick his brain a fair bit, about what should expect if I get the opportunity to go into camp. I will picking his brain if I do get the call-up.”
The giant Arnold twins began playing bush rugby together, relatively late, for the Murwillumbah Bananas in 2011 but while Rory had risen to professional footy by 2014, Richie took a little longer due to a shoulder injury. After spending time in club rugby in Queensland, Richie played NRC and won a contract with the Force in 2016.
“But for two years I was just riddled with injury,” he said. “My body wasn’t really used to the load of professional footy, and its demands on the body. I just wasn’t in the right shape. I played a few matches there and then the Force got cut, and I went over to Canberra.”
Rory Arnold played three Tests last year.Credit: Getty
Richie and Rory Arnold played together at the Brumbies, and though Richie developed strongly at the province, he struggled for game time amid a good stable of forwards.
Richie took up a contract with Yamaha in Japan but again didn’t play much, so looked for off-season opportunities elsewhere. Toulouse were keen and via a series of rolling loan deals, Arnold effectively stayed in France. He started for Toulouse in their Top 14 premiership win in 2019 and after his brother had signed for Toulouse as well, Richie signed up officially in 2020. They won another comp together in 2021.
“I think I just needed a bit of time in the saddle, playing consecutive matches, and to build that confidence up. Toulouse gave me an opportunity and gave me a lot of game time and French rugby is nice and physical,” he said.
“It is not as fast as Super Rugby but it’s physical, and the way Toulouse play — we throw the ball around — you get to express yourself. It just suits my game, I think. I am very, very happy here and it just helps you become the player you want to be.”
Rory (left) and Richie Arnold after winning the Top 14 title in 2021.Credit: Getty
In March, via his manager, Arnold learned Jones was visiting France and wanted to meet.
“Eddie is a pretty straight shooter, so we had a chat and he just said ‘are you interested to play for your country? Are you interested to come back to Australia, if the opportunity was there after the season, to come into camp and see where it takes you?’,” he said.
“Every Australian who plays sport dreams of representing their country, but yeah, it was really, really surprising, to be honest. After the meeting, I just had to take a moment and go ‘jeez, what just happened’. I didn’t see it coming. Where I am now, I am going on 33 soon and having been overseas now for a few years.
“As soon as I left Australia with the Brums, I thought that was it, I will never play for my country. And I was at peace with that.”
Jones believes the Rugby World Cup finals will be won via attritional, set-piece rugby, under heavy atmospheres. Just like in the Top 14 final, where three-quarters of the starting locks were Australian: Arnold, Skelton and Sydneysider Manny Meafou, the giant Jones unsuccessfully tried to win back from the clutches of France.
Richie Arnold does not currently qualify under the Giteau Law, given he doesn’t have 30 caps or five years at an Australian province, and is contracted with Toulouse next year. So if Jones is to select Arnold, he’d have to get approval for an exemption from Rugby Australia.
Informed sources say they believe that will unfold, with the 33-year-old to be one of six overseas players chosen for the Wallabies’ winter; along with Skelton, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Marika Koroibete and Samu Kerevi.
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