Michael Cheika could make as many as four changes to his Wallabies team as Tatafu Polota-Nau warns England have “woken up the beast” ahead of Saturday’s second Test in Melbourne.
While injury has ruled out David Pocock (eye socket) and put chief lineout caller Rob Simmons (lower back) in grave doubt for the AAMI Park clash, further alterations to the midfield and front row might be on the cards as the Wallabies attempt to level the Cook Cup series.
Yet the biggest difference will be in Australia’s attitude, now they’ve shaken off the cobwebs after seven months without a Test and had a taste of England’s hardcore physicality, according to reserve hooker Polota-Nau.
“You see the true test of a person’s character when they’re down and out,” Polota-Nau told reporters on Tuesday.
“People think we are but, at the end of the day, it’s more so how we bounce back and reply to the situation.
“We’re more than capable. If anything, they’ve woken up the beast.
“It’s great. We can make sure that come training, we have no illusion that they’re going to be physical.”
Simmons sat out Tuesday’s training session at Gosch’s Paddock and appears to be at long odds to feature in the second Test.
Brumbies lock Sam Carter has emerged as his likely replacement, a move that would allow second-gamer Rory Arnold to play next to a familiar face and as part of an established second-row combination.
That is critical after England’s control of the lineout in Brisbane, which coach Eddie Jones believes has “worried” the Wallabies and their skipper Stephen Moore.
Ben McCalman looms as the inclusion for Pocock, with the need for more size and power in the scrum and to counter England’s No.8 Billy Vunipola in the loose likely to lead Cheika to pick a traditional No.8 rather than another fetcher in his back row.
Workhorse McCalman was one of the unheralded stars of Australia’s World Cup campaign after helping stave off Wales and Scotland with desperate, heroic performances.
The need for a greater physical edge could result in Sekope Kepu starting in place of Greg Holmes in the front row.
But Cheika is also contemplating a different centre pairing, despite Samu Kerevi’s impressive but interrupted debut at No.12.
Matt Toomua is in camp, having fully recovered from knee surgery six weeks ago, and while he is a quality ball-playing option plus a strong, abrasive tackler, he would be a huge gamble given his lack of recent game time.
The other leading contender, Christian Lealiifano, believes the big-bodied Kerevi-Kuridrani combination is worth persisting with.
“I thought they went really, really well. With a bit more ball, hopefully they can do a bit more damage,” said Lealiifano, who came off the bench early in the first Test to replace the concussed Rob Horne.
The Wallabies have the day off training on Wednesday but Cheika is due to name his team early on Thursday.