Australia forwards coach Dan McKellar has given a strong hint that the talented Noah Lolesio will be handed the fly-half reins for this weekend’s clash against South Africa.
The 22-year-old started all three Tests during the England series following Quade Cooper’s injury, performing well despite their 2-1 defeat.
Cooper unsurprisingly returned once fit but an Achilles rupture in the opening Rugby Championship encounter against Argentina ruled him out of the rest of the tournament.
Many expected Lolesio to come into the XV for the second Test with Los Pumas but James O’Connor was handed the role.
However, after struggling in the 48-17 defeat in San Juan, O’Connor was jettisoned from the squad with Bernard Foley, who hasn’t featured for Australia since the 2019 World Cup, coming into the group.
It is therefore a battle between Lolesio and Foley for the starting spot but it looks like head coach Dave Rennie has gone for the Brumbies playmaker.
Combination with Nic White
“He’s (Lolesio) trained well while he has been in the side,” McKellar said.
“He was close to playing in Argentina. But that’s a position that hasn’t been nailed yet by an individual or owned.
“He gets his chance this week. He’s got Whitey (Nic White) on his inside who he knows very well: they’ve got a very good combination, have played a lot of footy together, so that should be really good cohesion.
“Now he’s just got to go out there and do his job within our plan.”
Lolesio will be determined to grasp this opportunity having lost his place at the start of the Rugby Championship, but McKellar insists that it is important the fly-half doesn’t overplay.
“My advice there is he doesn’t need to go there and think he needs to be the best player on the field,” he said.
“He needs to do the basics well and direct us around the park and manage the game well.
“Understand when we’ve got momentum, understand when we don’t have momentum and how we handle that. Play the game in the right areas of the field and that’s what his job is.
“If he does that and he’s really solid that’s a tick in the box for him.
“So I don’t think it’s about him going out there thinking he’s got to create a whole lot of opportunity for others. It’s just about doing his role well.”
The fly-half will also have to rely on the pack to get him quick ball, with McKellar aware that their main fight will be up front against the Springboks’ gargantuan forward eight.
The set-piece battle
“The big percentage is going to be around the set-piece battle,” he said. “Their kicking strategy and our ability to defuse it and potentially look for opportunity off the back of it.
“They’re very good at what they do. They won a World Cup off the back of it. As we’ve shown in the past, when we get our game right we can trouble them.”
Following a series loss to England and their inauspicious record defeat to Argentina, Rennie has come under increasing pressure.
Successive reversals at the hands of South Africa would be disastrous for the Wallabies and their head coach, but McKellar says that it is important they ‘stick together.’
“Guys have to stick tight, coaches have to stick tight,” he added. “And as a group, you’ve got to stick tight and that’s Test footy. It’s hard.
“You’re always going to have these periods but you’ve got two choices: you can bitch and moan about it and point the finger and blame others, or you stick tight and together and understand that, take on board feedback, make little adjustments around some effort areas, some attitudinal areas and you can turn things around very quickly.”