The Wallabies have been dealt a significant injury blow less than a fortnight from the opening match of the upcoming Tri Nations campaign.
According to a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, key playmaker Matt To’omua has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after sustaining a severe groin injury in Sunday’s 27-7 Bledisloe Cup defeat to the All Blacks in Sunday.
The 30-year-old, forming a playmaking axis from second-five alongside No. 10 James O’Connor, was pulled from the field towards the end of the first half, and is reportedly set to have two sets of scans to confirm the initial prognosis.
To’omua’s absence from the Wallabies set-up will force head coach Dave Rennie to ask a number of questions about the makeup of his starting XV as he prepares for the third test of a four-match Bledisloe Cup series in Sydney on October 31.
Two-test international rookie Hunter Paisami was shifted from his centre role to fill the void left by To’omua during last week’s match, with Reds youngster Jordan Petaia coming off the bench to form a young midfield combination.
That may be a combination is one of many options that Rennie may look to ahead of Bledisloe III in a week-and-a-half’s time, although his mention of uncapped prospect Irae Simone at the post-match press conference was telling.
“I think Hunter’s going great. A young man who wasn’t even sure he’d play Super Rugby at the start of the year, so he’s started the first two tests and I thought he made a pretty good fist of moving into 12,” Rennie said.
“We do have some pretty good options, who didn’t play today as well, Irae Simone being one fella who has spent a bit of time over here in New Zealand – a big part of the Brumbies set-up – so we do have some options, but I thought Hunter was strong.”
Yet to make his test debut, 25-year-old Simone could be in line to make his first appearance on the international stage against his nation of birth after a strong, title-winning Super Rugby AU season with the Brumbies.
Other midfield options include Simone’s fellow uncapped Brumbies teammate Len Ikitau and long-range goal kicking utility back Reece Hodge.
But, given the dual playmaking scheme Rennie implemented between O’Connor and To’omua at No. 10 and No. 12, he may use next week’s test as a chance to shift O’Connor into second-five and call promising first-five Noah Lolesio into the starting side.
O’Connor was used at both first-five and second-five by the Reds throughout Super Rugby AU and was impressive in both positions for the Queenslanders, and continued that vein of form into the 16-all Bledisloe Cup draw in Wellington a fortnight ago.
However, poor option-taking and decision-making against the All Blacks on Sunday cost his side dearly, meaning a change in the No. 10 jersey may be a possibility.
Without To’omua, it seems uncapped rookie Lolesio, who played a starring role in the Brumbies’ Super Rugby AU success this year, is the next cab off the rank among the first-five contingent, as evidenced by his selection on the bench for the Wellington test.
The 20-year-old failed to take to the field, however, with his place in the match day squad taken by Petaia for the Auckland clash.
If Rennie is to retain the playmaking axis he has utilised in his first two tests at the helm of Australia, though, it seems recalling Lolesio and moving O’Connor into the midfield, presumably alongside either Paisami or Petaia, is the most viable option.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a Wallabies spokesperson has confirmed that Rennie will not draft players from overseas into the squad, leaving veteran international and Racing 92 recruit Kurtley Beale unavailable for selection.
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