The training wheels are off and the Wallabies’ great project missions are set to begin, with Dave Rennie forced into yet another change in his back three for Saturday’s Test against England in Brisbane.
While Rennie was always going to be forced into change after a torrid, character-filled Test win in Perth, he was hoping to name Andrew Kellaway at fullback to replace Tom Banks after his broken arm.
No longer. Kellaway injured his hamstring at training on Tuesday and was getting scans on Wednesday, leaving two spots open in the back three to join Marika Koroibete on the left-wing.
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Jordan Petaia, who had a superb 60-minute performance off the bench in Perth and scored the match-turning try out wide, will wear the No.15 jersey in the absence of Kellaway.
Wallabies officials have long wanted to see Petaia in the No.15 jersey for his freakish athletic ability and powerful turn of pace.
But his lack of time in the No.15 position for Queensland, where his development has been slowed over the past five years because of a series of injuries, has meant Rennie’s coaching staff have been hesitant to play him in the position.
Banks and Kellaway’s injuries have sped up the process.
Who moves onto the right-wing remains less clear, but it would seem Suliasi Vunivalu has the inside running to make his debut on his home ground ahead of Tom Wright.
The two-time NRL premiership-winner with the Melbourne Storm has had a stop-start entrance to the game since switching codes following his title win in 2020.
A series of hamstring injuries slowed his progress, but after finishing the Super Rugby season on fire with the Queensland Reds it is time the Wallabies find out more about the big-name recruit.
Nine years earlier Israel Folau made his debut at Suncorp Stadium against the British and Irish Lions and the Wallabies will be hoping Vunivalu can have the same impact.
Vunivalu, 26, is considered by some Wallabies officials as the best athlete in Australian rugby’s history and his one-year extension deal last month reflected the decision to re-sign him for a third year despite limited minutes.
Wright, who was Australia’s best Super Rugby outside back this season, is another option but his versatility could in fact see him recalled via the bench, with Vunivalu an out-and-out winger.
Izaia Perese would be an unlikely option given he sees himself as a centre, but did come off the bench last November for his Test debut and previously played on the wing for Queensland.
While Reece Hodge’s experience and dependability is highly thought of, he only returned to the Wallabies squad on Tuesday from Fiji after being chosen for Australia A.
It would be a slap in the face were either Vunivalu or Wright overlooked for Hodge, whose inconsistent form saw him miss selection for the three-Test series against England.
Playmaker Noah Lolesio is expected to keep the No.10 jersey after his match-winning performance against England, where he was called in to replace Quade Cooper at the 11th hour.
Cooper’s calf injury is expected to see him miss the rest of the series, with James O’Connor’s versatility once again proving a valuable option for Rennie.
Elsewhere, the Wallabies must make two changes to their tight-five, with Taniela Tupou expected to be named for his return from injury.
His return will offset the blow of losing Allan Alaalatoa to concussion.
Darcy Swain’s two-match ban, which was reduced from six weeks by World Rugby, will also see a change in the second-row with Matt Philip firming for a return to the starting side.
Meanwhile, teen sensation Henry Arundell could be called into the starting side to inject some pace and life into England’s side after his stunning debut.
The 19-year-old was a surprise call-up to Eddie Jones’ squad for the series after limited matches off the bench for London Irish, but after impressing the Australian coach at training he debuted off the bench and scored with his first touch last weekend.
It was one of two late tries, which left Wallabies defense coach Matt Taylor far from impressed.
“I don’t know whether I was screaming. I was probably cursing more than screaming,” Taylor said.
“I was probably disappointed more than anything because to defend with 14 men for as long as we did and do a reasonable job to concede those two tries late in the game, as a defense coach, you’re not you’re not too pleased , but it’s just a timely reminder.”
Taylor said Arundell’s cameo was also a reminder for the Wallabies not to sit back in defense, but added he was confident they could shut down the speed machine should he be given his debut start.
“We do a lot of homework on all the plays and we’ve seen a fair bit of Henry in the Premiership and I know Petrus du Plessis has a lot of good friends at London Irish and they were talking about the amount of tries he was scoring in their training sessions,” he said.
“So we all knew how good a player he was. We knew he had really good pace.
“I think when you look at that try we probably sat back on him a little bit, sat on our heels and I think at the final moment when Andrew Kellaway and Noah came across, because they were sitting on the heels a little bit, he had a bit of momentum into the tackle and he’s a powerful athlete and a quick man so he finished really well.
“It’s a good reminder to us that you’ve got to be 100 per cent zoned right to the end of the Test match.”
World Cup No.7 Sam Underhill is expected to replace Tom Curry, who will miss the remainder of the series after a head knock last week.