Dave Rennie has turned to James O’Connor to fill the void left by Quade Cooper, as one of four changes to the starting side to face Los Pumas for the second leg of their Argentina tour.
The Rugby Championship Test against Argentina shapes as a pivotal one in the 32-year-old’s career, with his reputation at stake as the Wallabies attempt to settle on their preferred playmaker leading into next year’s World Cup. The clock is ticking.
In 12 months, Rennie will name his World Cup squad and O’Connor’s place, a mere formality 14 months ago when he re-signed through to the tournament, is now under the microscope.
Rennie has turned to the Reds playmaker for two reasons – experience and leadership – but he might well learn something extra about the playmaker too.
O’Connor’s stocks went down after his second-half cameo in Brisbane a month ago when he struggled out of position at fullback against England.
Now he gets the chance to prove his worth as he starts from the outset, having spent the past two months largely finetuning his skills from the training paddock, with Noah Lolesio again left out despite starting all three Tests against England.
But it won’t be easy.
Just like on last year’s Spring Tour, where he started in the absence of Cooper, he won’t have Samu Kerevi at inside centre. Nor will he have his Reds teammate Hunter Paisami, who, as reported, will miss the Test due to concussion.
In his place, Lalakai Foketi will start for the first time, with Irae Simone included on the bench.
While Simone enjoyed his best season yet for the Brumbies, the French-bound centre is another unusual decision because he won’t be available to the Wallabies next year and only covers the midfield. Suliasi Vunivalu and Lolesio, who both re-signed with Rugby Australia, must be scratching their heads after being left out again.
Elsewhere, Taniela Tupou starts upfront in the absence of Allan Alaalatoa (personal reasons), while Pone Fa’amausili is in line to make his debut off the bench.
Japan-bound Rory Arnold will start for the first time since last year’s end of season spring tour and comes in for Matt Philip.
Tate McDermott – the livewire halfback – is Nic White’s understudy.
The Wallabies haven’t won the Rugby Championship since 2015 and can go a long way in keeping their chances alive of claiming the silverware if they knock over Michael Cheika’s Pumas for a second straight week.
With home Tests against the Springboks to follow, it’s an opportunity the Wallabies can ill afford to let slip.
Wallabies Test team to play Argentina: James Slipper (c), Folau Fainga’a, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Darcy Swain, Jed Holloway, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright. Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa’amausili, Nick Frost, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Irae Simone, Reece Hodge. Sunday AEST in San Jose.