Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has displayed black humour in a dark week for Australian rugby, but the injury woes of his inside centres is no laughing matter.
Starting No.12 Matt Giteau broke an ankle after 10 minutes of Saturday night’s 42-8 loss to New Zealand in Sydney.
The inside-centre spot was no kinder to Rob Horne and Matt Toomua, who suffered shoulder and concussion problems respectively after taking turns in the No.12 jersey against the All Blacks’ juggernaut.
All three have been ruled out of Saturday’s return clash in Wellington.
“We’ll probably retire the No.12 jersey – it’s not been a good one so far in this series,” Cheika quipped on Tuesday.
Saturday’s injuries further eroded Cheika’s choice of inside centres with Kurtley Beale, Christian Lealiifano and Karmichael Hunt already unavailable before last weekend.
The barrel isn’t entirely empty for Cheika, although he lacks specialist inside centres in his squad.
Playmaker Quade Cooper, uncapped Reece Hodge and hard-running Samu Kerevi, who played inside centre in the first two Tests against England in June, are in the squad and vying for the seemingly cursed No.12 jersey.
“There’s a few options we’ve got there – the possibility of playing more ball runners, together with Samu coming in there,” Cheika said.
“Or we can try and work two playmakers around. Quade has obviously been there or thereabouts in training.
“Reece Hodge also has put his hand up quite well at training over the last few weeks.
“It would be a big call for him, but he looks like he’s a lad who is up for it, too.
“I think we go back, right back to the very start, about attitude and who wants to make it right and we’ll go with the selections from there.”
Cooper is far and away the most experienced of the three contenders, although he has played the vast majority of his rugby at five-eighth with just the occasional outing at inside centre.
“Quade is someone I’ll consider in the team at 10 or 12 or fullback, depending on what our situation requires,” Cheika said.
“Obviously, we’ve lost a few of our regular 12s so we’re going to have to do something there that’s a little bit different – whether it’s structure in our play or set up in our personnel.”