After their limp series whitewash to England, there is good news at last for the Wallabies as World Cup linchpin Kane Douglas prepares for his long-awaited return this weekend.
Coming back from the knee injury he suffered in last year’s World Cup final loss to New Zealand, Douglas has been named on the bench for Friday night’s Super Rugby clash with the Brumbies in his Queensland Reds debut.
As Wallabies coach Michael Cheika sorts through the wreckage of the 3-0 Cook Cup disaster and plots redemption in the Rugby Championship, the availability of lock Douglas should give him at least one less thing to worry about.
Cheika went through three different second-row pairings in the England series but none clicked as much as the Douglas-Rob Simmons combination that worked so well last year.
“We all saw what he did at the World Cup; he really brought that physicality and helped the Wallabies to a successful year – we didn’t get the fruits at the end, but he was the main reason why our tight five went well,” Reds captain James Slipper said.
“I’m excited. Super Rugby warrants that (physicality) and definitely Test match rugby.”
Douglas’ return comes after a collarbone injury to Simmons in the final Test against England which is likely to put him out for the rest of the Super Rugby campaign and extend his wait for a first Reds match alongside Douglas.
Interim co-coach Nick Stiles insisted Douglas’ comeback was simply good timing rather than a rush job in reaction to Simmons’ injury, saying he had long been cleared to play this week as per his rehab timetable.
Cadeyrn Neville and Lukhan Tui are the starting locks for Queensland while another new addition, former Bath No.8 Leroy Houston, is also on the bench.
Houston was part of the wider Wallaby camp for the England series and, while he didn’t play, he is expected to come back into Test reckoning later in the year, given Australia’s dire need for a strong ball-running presence at the back of the scrum, and his form over the past three years in the English Premiership.
“He’s definitely got some spunk about him,” Stiles said.
Injuries to Chris Feauia-Sautia (ankle) and Junior Laloifi (thumb) have also opened up spots for winger Chris Kuridrani and centre Henry Taefu, while the continued absence of Karmichael Hunt (groin) means a debut for rookie fullback Jack Tuttle.
Meanwhile, one of Australian rugby’s most exciting young prospects, one-time YouTube sensation Taniela Tupou – better known as the ‘Tongan Thor’ – has recovered from a recent ankle injury and is poised for his first taste of Super Rugby off the bench.