Head coach Eddie Jones has revealed the two candidates to start at fullback for the Wallabies against the All Blacks and provided an update on several players in his squad.
Australia host New Zealand at the MCG in Melbourne next weekend in the first Bledisloe Cup clash of the year, which doubles up as the Wallabies’ final Rugby Championship match.
Jones trimmed his squad following the defeats to South Africa and Argentina in round one, with Tom Wright and Pete Samu the notable omissions.
Michael Hooper in doubt for the Wallabies
While there are players returning from injury in time for the clash against their rivals, one player who could miss the match is Wallabies veteran Michael Hooper.
The openside flanker and co-captain sustained a calf injury which ruled him out of the clash against Los Pumas last week.
Asked how Michael Hooper was recovering ahead of the clash with the All Blacks, Jones said ‘slowly’ and added that he was doubtful for the match, which could be his last Test on Australian soil for the Wallabies.
“He wasn’t able to train today, and we’ll need to make a medical assessment of him over the weekend and see whether he can participate in the game or not,” Jones told reporters on Saturday.
“We’ve still got a week to go, and calf injuries; we tend to be more careful with their rehab than other injuries, so medical staff are being pretty careful with him.
“We will assess it over the weekend and make a decision from there.”
Options at fullback
Meanwhile, Andrew Kellaway is back in training with the Wallabies and is available for selection.
Jones’ latest squad excludes Wright, who started the opening two Tests of the year, as well as Reece Hodge, both of whom were thought to be options at fullback.
The Wallabies boss sees Kellaway as an option at fullback after he started both Tests against New Zealand in the position last year under Dave Rennie.
Commenting on the options at fullback, including Jordan Petaia and Carter Gordan, Jones said that they were always looking for improvements.
“Well, we need to improve the team. You know, we’re looking to improve the team, he said.
“We haven’t been good enough in the first two games. So I’m still searching for what our best team is; that’s quite obvious.
“I’ve only had the players for a short period of time, and I need to find out what our best combination is, so Kellaway and Petaia are definitely options at 15, and both have trained there this week.
“These games, as important as they are and certainly against New Zealand and the Bledisloe Cup, we treat them with the utmost importance, but I’ve got to find out who the best 33 is for Australia, and this is just part of the process.”
Taniela Tupou returns
Providing a further update on the squad’s fitness, Jones revealed that prop Taniela Tupou is back with the team after featuring for Australia A against Tonga.
“He hasn’t been able to train until today. He came back a little bit crook, I think, you know, maybe some of the native Tongan food got to him,” Jones explained.
“I’m not sure he’s come back a little bit unwell, but he’s back training today, and you know, if he can get through some good training in the week, then maybe he will be available for selection.”
Jones also defended the veteran players in his squad who haven’t quite been at their best in the opening two games, namely Samu Kerevi and Quade Cooper.
The coach pointed to the seriousness of their injuries and said they are tracking well to peak at the Rugby World Cup.
“We’ve got a number of players coming back from long-term injuries, and we know those players, as much as we like them to be at their best now, they’re not going to be their best until the World Cup, and we have a plan in place to get them back to their best,” he said.
“We’ don’t know where Quade’s going to end up, he’s still four games into returning from an Achilles tendon, and Samu Kerevi is three or four games back from an ACL, and they’re serious injuries.
“So with better exposure, the quality training and rugby training over the next period of time, they’re going to get a lot sharper.”