Eddie Jones looks set to make one of his biggest selection calls since returning as Wallabies coach, with fullback Tom Wright looming as a major casualty for next week’s Bledisloe opener against the All Blacks.
Sources have told The Roar that Wright, who started in the No.15 jersey for the Wallabies in their opening two defeats of The Rugby Championship, is in the firing line ahead of the MCG opener on July 29 when Jones named his Bledisloe squad on Thursday.
It comes after Wright endured a difficult ending in the Wallabies’ 34-31 loss to Argentina last Saturday.
The 25-year-old, who has played 25 Tests since scoring on debut with his first touch against the All Blacks in Brisbane, made three crucial errors in a costly 10-minute period.
First, having dropped Fraser McReight’s tough inside pass in close quarters, Wright pushed Matias Moroni in the 64th minute which led to Jaco Peyper reversing a penalty with the Wallabies trailing 20-17. Jones was caught on broadcast in a tangle with his headphones after expressing his frustration after the incident.
Three minutes later, Wright dropped a tricky grubber kick. The opportunity allowed Los Pumas to set up camp near the Wallabies’ 22-metre line, as Mateo Carreras got on the outside of Dave Porecki to score.
Capping off a forgettable period, Wright then put Carter Gordon under pressure with a late pass back to the short side as the fullback attempted to ignite the Wallabies’ attack.
Having clawed their way back to 27-24, the moment should have killed the Wallabies off, but a Mark Nawaqanitawase intercept saved the home side from their blushes as the winger scored a stunning length of the field try.
While Wright played his part in the Wallabies’ flying start against Argentina and also made a stunning trysaving tackle early in the second half, Jones has seemingly lost faith in the fullback to make the right decision and be a rock at the back of the field.
It also comes a month after Wright, who was one of Australian rugby’s best throughout Super Rugby, struggled in the Brumbies’ semi-final loss against the Chiefs, as his decision-making came back to haunt him.
Who replaces him remains to be seen, but the fit-again Andrew Kellaway looks set to return after recovering from a hamstring injury suffered in training last month.
He’s not the only back likely to return to the selection frame, with Jordan Petaia building his way back from wrist surgery.
But given both players are underdone, it would be a huge ask to throw either player in against the All Blacks.
Whether specialist fullback Jock Campbell receives a call-up remains to be seen, while Ben Donaldson as well as Suliasi Vunivalu are set to keep their spots in the wider squad.
Jones has another decision to make in the midfield following Len Ikitau’s fractured scapula.
But at least the Wallabies have options, with Waratahs pair Izaia Perese and Lalakai Foketi in the squad. Petaia is also a midfield option.
Jones will name his Bledisloe squad on Thursday, but on Wednesday spoke about the importance of putting the All Blacks under stress early in the match following their blistering starts that led to opening wins against Argentina and South Africa.
“We’ve got the Kiwis coming up and obviously they’ve got out of the blocks pretty quickly,” Jones said at the unveiling of the Wallabies’ highly anticipated schedule against the Lions in 2025.
“It’s a bit different for them in a World Cup year.
“Usually they have a much more moderated start and build up to the World Cup, but I think because of the change in the coach post the World Cup they’ve said ‘stuff this we’re going to hard right from the first minute.’
“They haven’t been put under pressure yet, and our job is to put them under pressure.
“You look at their first 20 minutes against South Africa, it was almost perfect rugby. Every kick they won in the air, they were good on the gain line, very smart about the way they played.
“If we’re able to match that in the first 20 minutes and put a bit of pressure on them, which they haven’t had this year, then funny things can happen.”