Australia’s hopes of breaking a 12-year winless drought in New Zealand have been dealt another major blow, with wingers Joe Tomane and Chris Feauai-Sautia ruled out of Saturday night’s Bledisloe Cup Test against the All Blacks.
The Wallabies have already lost centre and goalkicker Christian Lealiifano and in-form flanker Scott Fardy for the dead rubber clash in Dunedin and the latest injury setbacks on the wing add to an already extensive unavailable list out wide.
Although the Dunedin clash is a dead rubber affair, pride is on the line for the Wallabies as they look to put a disappointing Rugby Championship behind them and take momentum into next month’s spring tour.
Tomane and Queensland flyer Feauai-Sautia both have hamstring injuries, but are expected to be available for the Wallabies’ opening match against England on November 2.
The loss of Tomane is the most significant for coach Ewen McKenzie, given the rugby league convert starred in Australia’s last-start demolition of Argentina, scoring a try and setting up another.
Waratahs winger Peter Betham has been added to the Wallabies’ 24-man squad for the Dunedin match, but Nick Cummins, himself returning from a broken hand, shapes as the frontrunner to replace Tomane.
The injury dramas have added to selection headaches for McKenzie since he took over as Wallabies coach, with Digby Ioane (French rugby), James O’Connor (discipline) and Henry Speight (eligibility) all unavailable.
Last week McKenzie was forced to move Adam Ashley-Cooper from his outside centre position to fill a void on the flanks and if Cummins isn’t selected to start, the rookie Test coach will have to consider shifting Israel Folau to the wing and putting Bernard Foley at fullback.
Matt Toomua is set to replace Lealiifano at No.12 and Ben McCalman tipped to come in for Fardy.
The All Blacks are without backline stars Dan Carter and Conrad Smith, but will still have the Australians well-and-truly beaten for experience out wide.
Prop James Slipper is renowned for his work rate and speed across the ground, but he admits his career will be defined by his consistency at scrum time.
Australia struggled to match South Africa and New Zealand at the set piece throughout the Rugby Championship, but the forwards have a chance to prove they’ve made progress against the All Blacks.
Slipper, 24, has been earmarked as the future of the Wallabies front row.
He’s a favourite of coach McKenzie, because his pace, power and workhorse qualities give the Wallabies the equivalent of a fourth backrower at the breakdown.
“As we all know, scrummaging is the No.1 priority job for a front rower,” Slipper said.
“I do feel like our scrum is an improvement throughout the year and for me personally, I feel like I’m getting through a lot of work around the field. But obviously scrums and the set piece is my first job.
“I still feel like I’m at the start of my career. This year has been great to have an opportunity to start a few games. I’m pretty happy with my form.”