The Wallabies are in almost uncharted territory, with the chance to secure the newly minted Ella-Mobbs Trophy in the second Test against England in Brisbane tonight.
As for these three mid-year Test series, there have been only four of them going all the way back to 2014. The 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup years meant no Tests were played in June during those years. We just went straight from Super Rugby to a shortened Rugby Championship.
And of those four series, it is only the 2016 series against England where the Wallabies failed to win the first Test.
Against France in 2014, the Wallabies won in Brisbane and concluded the series in Melbourne, before completing a clean sheet in Sydney.
And last year against France, the Wallabies won again in Brisbane, but dropped the second Test in Melbourne. A penalty goal by Noah Lolesio decided the series back in Brisbane.
The fourth series was against Ireland in 2018, where the Wallabies again won the first Test in Brisbane, but then lost the series after defeats in Melbourne and Sydney.
So the Wallabies lead another run 1-0 going into the second test, but this playing group would have no experience dealing with the pressure successfully.
Following his side’s miraculous injury and ill-disciplined victory in Perth last weekend, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has been forced to switch teams for Brisbane.
With fly half Quade Cooper a late scratch just minutes before kick-off in Perth, the Wallabies lost fullback Tom Banks to an arm injury and struts Allan Ala’alatoa to a concussion, while lock Darcy Swain was sent off on a red card and is now serving a two week suspension.
But on calling his side on Thursday, Rennie was forced to make more changes than just the changes that were apparent from the first Test of the year.
Andrew Kellaway was all set to fill the full-back role after performing admirably there last week in place of the injured Banks, but he has since suffered a hamstring injury and will sideline Brisbane.
His absence gives Jordan Petaia a shot in the Wallabies’ number 15 jersey that Rennie has been eyeing for a while, despite his custodian credentials remaining a work in progress.
Center Len Ikitau had limited chances in Perth, but by making the game without naming him, Rennie admitted Ikitau had suffered calf pain in the series opener.
“He didn’t get well,” Rennie said on Thursday.
“He tried to run away this morning. He is very close, but we didn’t want to risk anything and were convinced that he will be right for next week.”
The underlying question here also concerns the nature of Wallabies’ injuries. Kellaway’s hamstring isn’t considered serious, nor is Ikitau’s calf. But Ikitau is now the fifth calf injury in the team.
Wallabies looking at a wider squad
Taniela Tupou returns this week from a long-term calf injury, Pone Fa’amausili remains sidelined, Jed Holloway was ruled out of a particular test debut last week and Cooper’s late injury on Saturday was also a calf.
When asked if anything of a trend was developing, Rennie instead turned it around to create chances and the extra team strength it built.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hugely disruptive,” Rennie said.
“I’ve talked about the fact that we have a lot more depth than we did a few years ago and it’s an opportunity to highlight that.”
Tupou returns to the front row for Ala’alatoa. Many thought that lock Matt Philip should have started last week and he comes straight in for the suspended Swain.
Now that Ikitau is out, Hunter enters Paisami, downtown Queensland, while Brumbies aviator Tom Wright lands in Kellaway’s wings.
On the bench, highly regarded young Brumbies lock Nick Frost is lined up for a Test debut, while Waratah’s back utility Izaia Perese also gets his first chance of the year.
Concerned about his team’s bad luck performance in Perth – and already on the side of openside Tom Curry, who has returned home to manage his concussion recovery – England coach Eddie Jones has chosen an additional backrower in a 6-2 forward-back split on the reserve bank leaving it is not necessary to guess the game plan on his part.
Bath flanker Sam Underhill comes straight in Curry’s number seven jersey and Wasps backrower Jack Willis is the extra attacker on the bench.
Jones has shuffled his rearguard to promote former England under-20 scrum half Jack van Poortvliet, who scored on his debut late last week. Leicester team-mate and former University of Sydney captain Guy Porter was also selected after being unused in the first test.
Porter was on the Brumbies squad before returning to his native country in mid-2020. He enjoyed Shute Shield Premiership success at the University of Sydney before joining the Brumbies.
Uncapped Northampton back Tommy Freeman is something of a surprise left wing shot in place of Joe Cokanasiga, where many thought teenage sensation Harry Arundell could be promoted after scoring with his first touch last week.
The Wallabies have won their last 10 Test matches played in Brisbane, with their last loss at Lang Park in the series loss to England in 2016. Both teams hope the recent history of the venue works in their favour.
Wallabies: Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Angus Bell, David Porecki, Taniela Tupou, Matt Philip, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Leota, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Valetini.
Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Nick Frost, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, James O’Connor, Izaia Perese
England: Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell, Guy Porter, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman*, Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes (c), Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola
Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack Willis, Danny Care, Henry Arundell