Wallabies coach Dave Rennie says he hasn’t made a call on whether Bernard Foley will join the team this season but admits five-eighth is becoming a concern in the wake of Quade Cooper’s crushing Achilles tear.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Foley, now playing club rugby in Japan, was set to join the Wallabies in camp next week upon the team’s return home from Argentina.
Cooper, Australia’s first choice No.10, has been ruled out for the rest of the year at a minimum and James O’Connor will start in his place against the Pumas on Sunday.
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Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi congratulate Bernard Foley after his 2016 try. (Getty)
With Cooper and Samu Kerevi both injured, Rennie has another Giteau Law selection pick up his sleeve to join Marika Koroibete and Rory Arnold.
Noah Lolesio and Reece Hodge are the other fit playmaking options in the squad.
Rennie was cagey when asked about the Foley report on Friday.
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“We haven’t made a plan around that,” Rennie said.
“Clearly at the moment we’ve still got three guys with Hodgey covering and we’ll reassess when we get home. We haven’t made a decision yet.
“We haven’t even named the squad. We’ll get home and the thinking is by Wednesday, we’ll meet and we’ll pick a new squad for South Africa.”
Bernard Foley with an ‘Iceman’ sculpture made in his honour. (Getty)
Foley, 32, has played 71 Tests for Australia and was nicknamed ‘The Iceman’ following his cool goalkicking in the run to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
He is contracted to the Kubota Spears and hasn’t played a Test since 2019.
Rennie said O’Connor’s experience and “voice” were major factors in his selection.
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The San Juan Test will be O’Connor’s first Wallabies start this season after Lolesio was given the keys for the July series against England.
“What we talked about was really around acceleration and sharpening up the skill set,” Rennie said of O’Connor.
“Attitude-wise he has been brilliant. He couldn’t have been more supportive. It’s disappointing when players miss out but he’s had a clear picture of what he needed to do and was fully supportive of everyone else and helping them prepare well.”
James O’Connor of the Wallabies makes a run against the Pumas. (Getty)
Rennie said “of course” O’Connor’s durability was a concern after the 32-year-old was slowed by a hamstring tear this season.
“But he’s earnt the right to play this weekend. Our thinking is he’ll go through to a World Cup but time will tell. He’s keen to get out there and prove that he’s got plenty more footy in him.”
Rennie confirmed that five-eighth was now his biggest problem position.
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“I would say so. We’ve talked about two (hooker) we’ve talked about 10, 15 (fullback), second row for a while, but we’ve got pretty good depth there already with a couple of young guys coming through.
“Fifteen now, Tom Wright has been excellent back there, we’ve used Jordie (Petaia), we’ve played Kells (Andrew Kellaway) there, played Reece Hodge there, got Kurtley Beale back and Tom Banks on the injured list.
“We’ve generally got a lot of numbers back at 15. So yeah, that 10 is skinnier.”
Noah Lolesio of the Wallabies chats with teammates Quade Cooper and Duncan Paia’aua. (Getty)
Hodge will again cover five-eighth from the bench against the Pumas.
Rennie said Lolesio was “disappointed” to again miss the 23 following a shaky third Test performance against England.
“He’s a good kid and he’s going to be an excellent international 10 and so he’s definitely working hard on growing his game. We talked about connection. It’s a strength of his game normally at the Brumbies.
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“He probably wasn’t as sharp (at the SCG) and he got deeper and deeper as the game went on trying to buy himself some time.
“He’s the type of player who probably doesn’t have the leg speed of Beauden Barrett so he needs to be able to play flat, but still get himself in a position where you can run, kick, pass. He is very good at challenging.
“They are areas that we want them to be better in but he’s played over a dozen Tests now and they’re all against top teams – the All Blacks, French, English, South Africans.
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“He’s played big games and will be better for that.”
Waratahs playmakers Ben Donaldson and Tane Edmed are also expected to spend some time in the Wallabies environment this year but not necessarily as official squad members.
“We’ve got some good young kids coming through but not ready for this level yet. We get home and we’ve got South Africa to come, we’ve got the All Blacks, two of the best sides in the world. It’s certainly an area of focus,” Rennie said.
“We need to accelerate the development of our young 10s.
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