The Wallabies will be forced to go to the well again, with Hunter Paisami expected to be ruled out of their second Rugby Championship Test against Michael Cheika’s Los Pumas in San Juan.
It’s understood the centre, who laid on the Wallabies’ bonus point win with a sublime run and offload in the final play of the game, has suffered a head knock.
His injury will see yet another backline reshuffle, with Lalakai Foketi expected to be named in the No.12 jersey. Irae Simone, who was a late call-up to the squad and will head to Clermont following the two-Test tour of Argentina, is firming for a remarkable return via the bench.
Foketi won’t be the only change either.
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The change at inside centre could see the Wallabies opt for the experienced head of James O’Connor to fill the No.10 jersey following Quade Cooper’s devastating season ending injury.
Should Dave Rennie indeed turn to O’Connor, the Test shapes as a crunch one for the 32-year-old, who lost some backers following his poor second half against England in Brisbane last month. Never mind that he was under done and playing away from his preferred position and the lack of time in the saddle showed.
Part of the thinking could be that in Bledisloe III, 2020, Rennie was forced to select the uncapped duo of Noah Lolesio and Simone at 10 and 12 and their inexperience showed as the All Blacks smashed the Wallabies at the Olympic Stadium. Rolling out Lolesio, who is still growing as a player at 22, and Foketi, who will play his second Test, could leave them short of experience and leadership in the backline.
Utility Reece Hodge, who stepped into the hot seat at No.10 early in the second half and was assured and kicked his goals, all but confirmed he wouldn’t start when he indicated on Wednesday that either O’Connor or Lolesio would start in the role.
“Rabs (O’Connor) has got his body in really good shape and he’s been training well the last month and really pushing for selection,” Hodge said.
“Whether it’s him or Noah who get the nod heading into this weekend, we’re confident that both of them are in great physical shape and both training really well, so whoever steers us around will have the full confidence of the squad.”
Meanwhile, Allan Alaalatoa’s (personal reasons) return to Australia has opened the door for Pone Fa’amausili to make his debut off the bench.
The Rebels tight-head prop has long been knocking on the door and been a part of the Wallabies’ squad since 2020.
But stuck behind Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou, who will start against Los Pumas, and plagued by injuries, the giant wrecking-ball, who was compared to the ‘Tongan Thor’ before the series by Rennie, he has been forced to bide his time and get himself into physical shape.
The potential of Fa’amausili is immense, but the weekend’s Test will be his moment of truth.
Elsewhere, Rennie could yet be swayed to return to Rory Arnold – one of Rennie’s international picks – and having been eased back into the squad following a minor injury, he could yet start.
The Test shapes as a significant one for the Wallabies.
If they pull off back to back wins it will leave them in great shape to give The Rugby Championship a real shake.
The rejigged format of the competition, which includes tours for the first time, will see the Wallabies have the luxury of playing three of the next four Tests on home soil, including consecutive matches against the world champion Springboks.
For the first time in years too, the All Blacks are vulnerable and down on confidence having lost three straight Tests. A fourth consecutive loss to the Springboks could force a coaching change, with Ian Foster on the chopping block.
Cheika’s Pumas will be out for revenge, however, noting their second half disaster, where they were penalised out of the game and smashed at the rolling maul, killed them.
With an inexperienced, lighter front-row to come off the bench for the Wallabies though, the Pumas have the chance to go after their opposition.