Michael Cheika is toying with the idea of thrusting code-hopping Karmichael Hunt into a Wallabies play-making role as he comes to grips with losing attacking maestro Kurtley Beale to injury.
With Beale out of the picture for next month’s three-Test series with England, the Wallabies coach is also considering unleashing a monster centre pairing on Eddie Jones’ Six Nations champions.
Cheika says he may turn to an all-power midfield duo featuring two of Israel Folau, Samu Kerevi and incumbent Tevita Kuridrani after having his plan to use Beale at inside centre as a second ball-player scuppered by his season-ending knee injury.
With France-based World Cup finalist Matt Giteau an unlikely starter as he battles a nagging groin injury, the coach floated the possibility of deploying “more stinging runners” in the centres and using his fullback as the second playmaker.
“There’s a few options. Karmichael’s been playing well at fullback and can play in the playmaker role,” said Cheika on Thursday, after announcing a two-year contract extension on Thursday that will him through until after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“Obviously Christian (Lealiifano) has played fullback before but he could play up front as well because he’s obviously playing in that role and in a leadership role also with the Brumbies this year.
“So there’s a few different options that we’ve got there that we can play around with.”
Should he win a maiden Wallabies cap, 29-year-old Hunt, who played 11 rugby league Tests for the Kangaroos before a four-season stint in the AFL, would join Folau as the second dual international in Cheika’s side.
Matt Toomua is also in the midfield mix, but is likely to miss the June 11 series opener with England in Brisbane as he recovers from knee surgery.
But what is certain is Cheika’s promise to blood “at least six or seven players” in the international arena ahead of the Bledisloe Cup and Australia’s Rugby Championship defence.
Almost a week on from confirmation that Beale was leaving the NSW Waratahs to join Wasps on a record-setting $3 million two-year deal, Cheika remains unhappy with how the English club handled the announcement before Beale suffered his injury in Saturday night’s match against the Bulls.
“I wasn’t keen on the fact that they dropped that press release without telling Kurtley,” he told Fox Sports’ Rugby 360.
“He would have been down because he hadn’t had a chance to talk to (Waratahs coach) Daryl (Gibson), hadn’t had a chance to talk to me and I know they’d been putting a lot of pressure on him not to play Test footy either, which is happening with a lot (now).
“So that’s a lot of pressure for a young bloke to take.
“Unfortunately we’re not going to have him to play Test footy now because he’s going to be injured, but I know the lad’s very resilient and he’s going to be back better than ever.”
A bemused Cheika also had news for Wasps after hearing their director of rugby on Wednesday saying he wasn’t concerned that Beale wasn’t available to his new club until at least September because of a knee injury.
“If he’s going to be right in September, October, he’s going to be playing for us in the Rugby Championship,” Cheika said.
“He won’t be playing for Wasps.”