The Wallabies’ experiment with Kurtley Beale at five-eighth is over but whether Bernard Foley returns or Matt Toomua takes over is the big question.
Beale is set to be restored to inside centre for Sunday morning’s (AEST) Rugby Championship showdown against Argentina, when the embattled Australians attempt to avoid a first Rugby Championship wooden spoon.
Beale replaced long-time No.10 Foley in the primary playmaking role for Australia’s past three Test matches, forming a new combination with inside centre Matt Toomua.
But it’s understood coach Michael Cheika has seen enough and has decided to move Beale back to No.12 in an attempt to capitalise on his outstanding running game against Los Pumas.
Beale made a costly early blunder with an intercepted pass in last weekend’s defeat to South Africa but recovered and was lively enough in the second half.
However, the Wallabies failed to score a point after the break and lost 23-12.
Who replaces him at five-eighth in Salta is still unclear.
Both Foley and the versatile Toomua spent time in the No.10 role during a lengthy field training session on Tuesday at the San Isidro rugby club – the team’s first hit-out since assembling in Buenos Aires.
Cheika is yet to make a call either way and will weigh up his options before officially naming his team on Thursday.
Toomua, who prefers the No.10 spot, hasn’t started a Test match at five-eighth since 2013, when he played there in two Bledisloe Cup defeats to New Zealand in his first two international appearances.
Foley, meanwhile, has impressed in cameos off the bench since his shock demotion for Australia’s Rugby Championship win over South Africa in Brisbane last month.
The move is a tacit admission from Cheika that the Beale-Toomua pairing has not improved the Wallabies’ attacking output as he had hoped.
Australia has averaged just 16.75 points per game this year – their worst return since 1979.
Breaking that funk is vital given there is less than a year to go until the World Cup.
Most statistical indicators suggest the Wallabies are doing many of the right things in attack except actually scoring, with players and coaches this week preaching the importance of composure and execution.
Whether another backline reshuffle will unlock their strike potential remains to be seen.
Cheika is also believed to be leaning towards naming a natural back-rower on the bench against Argentina, meaning either a Test debut for Angus Cottrell or a recall for Caleb Timu, who hasn’t featured since the June series against Ireland.
Australia didn’t carry a traditional loose forward amongst their reserves in Port Elizabeth, with the three starting back-rowers all playing the full 80 minutes.