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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Injury scare for Australia captain Will Skelton ahead of Fiji test

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A testy Eddie Jones contemplated the potential loss of his captain and a significant chunk of scrum power after naming his team for Australia’s second Rugby World Cup match against Fiji on Friday.

Skipper Will Skelton was named to start in the second row despite a calf injury that will require scans later on Friday and Jones said he would be given until kickoff to prove his fitness for Sunday’s Pool C clash at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

“At this stage, he’s still in the team,” Jones told reporters at the team hotel without elaborating.

Jones has already lost vice captain and starting scrumhalf Tate McDermott to a head knock, while powerful tighthead prop Taniela Tupou has a hamstring strain which Jones said would keep him out for a couple of weeks.

Evergreen Wallabies prop James Slipper will step into the breach in the front row, switching from loosehead to starting tighthead after recovering from a foot injury.

Co-captain as recently as July, the 34-year-old might also be required to step up into a leadership void as he plays his 132nd test and becomes the third Australian after George Gregan and Adam Ashley-Cooper to play in four World Cups.

“It’s a remarkable achievement to play for World Cups particularly as he started off as a tighthead and volunteered to loosehead and now he’s volunteering to go back to tighthead,” Jones added in one of his few lengthy answers.

“It’s a real testament to his to courage, to his resilience, to how much he loves the game and loves playing for the Wallabies. We think on Sunday, he’ll play a pretty good game for us.”

Having beaten Georgia 35-5 in their opener last weekend to snap a five-match losing streak, the twice world champions could all but secure a place in the quarter-finals with a victory.

Jones spoke again at length about how he felt World Rugby’s focus on player safety had turned the game into a series of “30-second bursts of power” interspersed with two-minute spells of extremely rapid transition.

“When you play against Fiji, you’d always like to have setpiece advantage,” he added.

“The power contests will be interesting, they’ve got a very big pack but we want to take them on in that area. Then in the transitional, we’ve got to be one step ahead of them, one step ahead.”

In his team, Jones selected the experienced Nic White at scrumhalf instead of McDermott with rookie Issak Fines-Leleiwasa set to win his second test cap from the bench.

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Fines-Leleiwasa is one of six players with Fijian heritage in the matchday squad along with number eight Rob Valetini and backs Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Mark Nawaqanitawase and Suliasi Vunivalu.

Lock Nick Frost returns to the starting line-up in the second row after missing the last two tests because of a cut to his ear with Richie Arnold likely to step up from the bench if Skelton is ruled out.

Team: 15-Ben Donaldson, 14-Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13-Jordan Petaia, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Carter Gordon, 9-Nic White, 8-Rob Valetini, 7-Fraser McReight, 6-Tom Hooper, 5-Will Skelton, 4-Nick Frost, 3-James Slipper, 2-David Porecki, 1-Angus Bell

Replacements: 16-Jordan Uelese, 17-Blake Schoupp, 18-Zane Nonggorr, 19-Richie Arnold, 20-Rob Leota, 21-Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22-Lalakai Foketi, 23-Suliasi Vunivalu


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