Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has defended the decision to bring in hooker James Hanson as an injury replacement following the loss of Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton for the remainder of the World Cup.
Palu, along with giant lock Skelton (shoulder), was on Tuesday ruled out of the World Cup after aggravating a hamstring injury in Sunday’s 65-3 victory over Uruguay.
While Australia loses two of its biggest players, Cheika opted against drafting in another back-rower – instead flying Hanson out from Australia to join the squad.
Lock Sam Carter, who has been playing in France while recovering from a knee injury, also joins the squad in a bid to bolster the stocks of bigger bodies.
“We’re pretty lucky in that way,” he said.
“We’ve got a player like Carter who was almost a first choice not that long ago before he got injured and then Hanson who’s got plenty of experience and had a great Super Rugby season last year.”
The Wallabies were criticised for their decision to select only two hookers, captain Stephen Moore and back-up Tatafu Polota-Nau, in their initial 31-man squad.
They will certainly face questions about whether it is a fair replacement to bring a third hooker in for their third-string No.8.
But Cheika defended the decision – saying as they approached the prospect of playing five-straight games against tier-one nations, more depth in the front row was essential.
The outstanding form of openside flanker David Pocock, who has proven himself to be Australia’s first-choice No.8 as evidenced by his man-of-the-match performance in their tournament-opener against Fiji, also aided the decision to not bring in a specialist back-rower.
“It is hard to replace Wycliff Palu like for like so now we’re moving into a different part of the competition we might take a bit of coverage in the front row,” Cheika said.
The loss of Skelton, the tournament’s second heaviest player, and the hard-running Palu is undeniably a blow to the Wallabies’ World Cup aspirations – both in the long-term and the short, with England looming on Saturday for an all-important clash which could decide the fate of both nation’s ability to reach the quarter-finals.
It almost certainly ends the international career of the 31-year-old Palu, who has played 57 Tests and will fall short of the 60-Test exemption for overseas players before he joins Japanese club rugby after the World Cup.
“Wycliff has been a very, very remarkable player for Australia and it’s more than likely the last game he’ll play for Australia so it’s a sad day for us in that regard,” Cheika said.
“But he’s brought us so much over the years, and in this tournament in particular, his presence and the way he’s come back from injury to play in the tournament has been really special for the players.
“He’s got a strong but quiet influence within the team and he’s going to be sorely missed but I know what he’d want us to do going forward.”
Carter will be available for the decisive pool match, while it is unlikely Hanson will be ready in time – having reportedly flown out from Australia on Tuesday.