Dave Rennie's big midfield dilemma ahead of Rugby Championship
SPOTLIGHT: Still reeling from the long-term loss of Samu Kerevi, the Wallabies are vowing to embrace the next man up mentality ahead of their opening Rugby Championship Test against Argentina.
Kerevi will consult a specialist in Brisbane after suffering a knee injury while playing in Australia’s Commonwealth Games Sevens team but the early diagnosis is that he will require surgery.
It’s a massive blow for the Wallabies’ hopes of winning the Rugby Championship or finally wresting back the Bledisloe Cup from New Zealand which they last won in 2003.
The 28-year-old was already skipping the Wallabies’ two Tests against the Pumas, with game one in Mendoza on Saturday followed by a second in San Juan a week later, but had been expected to return for the next four Tests against South Africa and the All Blacks.
The hard-running inside centre was a stand-out in Australia’s recent series loss to England.
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“I’m obviously very disappointed for Samu, I had a chat with him just before and now it’s about him getting his body right,” said centre partner Len Ikitau from Buenos Aires.
“I know the type of person he is, and he’s going to bounce back and be right for next year.
“It was awesome to play with Samu … he’s direct and for me, it’s playing off the kind of go-forward ball that he produces.
“For us, though, it’s a next man up mentality, coming in and doing the job.”
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has a couple of options to wear the No.12 jersey – with one possibility that Hunter Paisami takes over at inside centre alongside Ikitau.
That was the Wallabies’ combination on last year’s UK spring tour, which Kerevi sat out due to his Japan club obligations.
With the team to be announced Thursday, Rennie might also opt to start Lalakai Foketi in either role.
The Waratahs ace has only played one Test, coming off the bench last year against Wales, but impressed in the recent Australia ‘A’ Pacific Cup campaign.
Star wing Marika Koroibete was asked by reporters about Paisami and said the Reds campaigner he could step into the inside centre role seamlessly.
“He’s kind of a different player from Samu, he’s got his own game, his own superpower,” said Koroibete.
“He’s got ball skills, and he’s an extra playmaker for us.
“He brings energy and he loves to hit … and I reckon if Hunter got picked this week he’s going to do a very good job.”
The Wallabies will look to get off to a fast start to try and silence the Argentine crowd who have been starved of international rugby for the past three years.
They got a taste last month when new Pumas coach, former Wallabies boss Michael Cheika orchestrated a series win over Scotland.
“It was disappointing we didn’t get the win over England but it’s a new competition and there are trophies up for grabs,” said Ikitau, who has played 15 Tests.
“We’re working towards winning the Rugby Championship and that starts this week against Argentina.”