The Wallabies’ twin injury blow is set to ensure a selection shake-up which could lead to late call-up Sam Carter making his World Cup debut in Saturday’s must-win clash with England.
While No.8 Wycliff Palu was considered unlikely to play in the decisive Pool A clash at Twickenham, giant lock Will Skelton was expected to be named by coach Michael Cheika on the bench.
The pair were on Tuesday ruled out of the remainder of the tournament – Skelton with a pectoral muscle injury and Palu hurting his left hamstring, with both injured in Sunday’s heavy victory over Uruguay.
But the absence of the Wallabies’ heaviest player, the 140kg lock Skelton, opens up a bench spot – which could be filled by the 116kg Carter, who only arrived as an injury replacement on Tuesday morning.
And while hooker James Hanson, Palu’s replacement, flew from Australia to join the squad and almost certainly won’t be ready to take on England – the 201cm Carter enjoyed a more palatable 95 minute journey from Bordeaux, where he had been training.
“Both the players have been selected for their qualities. That is why we want them here,” said Cheika, who felt disappointed for the injured pair.
“You can see their disappointment, but what they are also trying to do is also keep a pretty brave face so they don’t get the rest of players into their headspace.”
Cheika also expressed his delight at the depth of talent the Wallabies were able to draw on for the tournament, pointing to the likes of former skipper James Horwill, Scott Higginbotham and Liam Gill as representative of the quality which remains unpicked.
“We have got to make sure we get the maximum potential out of all the players in Australia and keep building that for the future,” Cheika said.
“It is disappointing for some, an opportunity for others.”
Australia is expected to roll out a similar starting line-up to the first-choice group selected to take on Fiji in their tournament opener, though some positions are not entirely settled.
Veteran winger Drew Mitchell is considered a chance to usurp Rob Horne’s spot on the left wing as the Wallabies look for a way to counter the express pace of England right-winger Anthony Watson.
The halves remain up for debate, although the steady hand, and superior goalkicking, of Bernard Foley looks set to win out over the brilliant but unpredictable Quade Cooper.
Cooper produced a mixed effort against Uruguay – setting up three tries and looking a constant threat in a game where he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle and missed six of his 11 shots at goal.
Will Genia also has the upper hand in his battle with Nick Phipps for the halfback spot, despite the latter’s strong outing in the rout of Uruguay.
The back-row picks itself, with Scott Fardy to partner the Michael Hooper-David Pocock combination, despite Sean McMahon’s man-of-the-match performance against Uruguay.
Dean Mumm is putting pressure on second-rowers Kane Douglas and Rob Simmons, though both are favoured to retain the spots in the team to be announced on Thursday.