Wallabies manager Dave Rennie has described James O’Connor as a “favourite” to start five rounds against England while keeping the door ajar for Quade Cooper.
Rennie spoke to reporters in the Gold Coast on Tuesday after details of the three-Test series against England emerged.
Cooper used O’Connor’s injury last year to spark a Wallabies winning streak in one of Australian rugby’s great comeback stories.
“James has been excellent, very influential in Reds form, which is great to see,” Rennie said.
“He also had a big year last year for the Reds, then got injured before the French series and took a long time to recover. So he’s definitely a favourite, but Quade remains an option for him. us. He was excellent last year.”
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Rennie also names injured youth dropouts Noah Lolesio and Ben Donaldon as No. 10 options and both are in camp with the Wallabies.
Rugby Australia’s new eligibility laws allow Rennie to choose up to three overseas-based players for each series or tournament.
Japan-based Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete are likely options to add punch to the Australian backline.
“Who we bring will probably depend on how things play out over the next few weeks,” Rennie said.
“If we get a string of injuries in a certain place that could become a priority. We’re keen to pick as many as we can from here because we have the most influence on those guys. But definitely good to have an option abroad.”
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Rennie described fullback, lock and hooker as areas that would give selectors serious headaches in the coming months.
Jordan Petaia, Tom Banks, Jock Campbell, Reece Hodge and returning Kurtley Beale are all options.
“He (Beale) will be available as he signed for the Waratahs next year and is committed to us,” Rennie said.
“He has a hamstring injury at the moment so the severity of that and the amount of footy he gets ahead of the England Series may dictate that.”
Rennie believes the level of Australian Super Rugby teams has improved this year, particularly from a fitness perspective.
“Certainly from a national perspective our boys are very fit. The skill set has improved a lot but we want him to be better. Awareness of the game has been a big priority and we think that it’s growing, but we still have more room in it.”
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