Injury brings opportunity, and ten months out from the World Cup that is exactly how the Wallabies are viewing Sunday’s clash against Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
While most Test nations have finished for the season, the Wallabies – those that are still standing – have much to play for.
No major silverware will be up for grabs in Cardiff, but reputations and careers are at stake for players and coaches from both proud rugby nations after shock defeats throughout the year.
Wales’ latest slip-up – a historic 13-12 loss to Georgia last weekend – has put every area of the Welsh Rugby Union under the spotlight. It comes months after World Rugby breakout star of the year Ange Capuozzo – the same supremely talented fullback who scored twice during their win over Australia earlier this month – burnt Wales in the final match of the Six Nations to snap their seven-year winless run.
Although a defeat to a Tier 2 nation might be considered a sign all is not right, the Wallabies know only too well not to take Wales lightly after losing their past three encounters to the Six Nations side, and forward Jed Holloway says he’s bracing for a response.
“We know that Wales lost to Georgia last week, so they’re going to want to make amends for that as well,” he said.
While the Wallabies are very much crawling to the end of the season, the group is conscious of the importance of finishing the season on a high.
Three defeats on tour, with a combined deficit of five points being the difference between agony and ecstasy, combined with the fact the Wallabies have not won their final match of a calendar year since 2013 has the group desperate to leave the United Kingdom with their tails up ahead of next season’s World Cup year.
“I think we need wins, and we’re so close,” Holloway said.
“I think that’s what’s driving the boys to finish this tour off the way we want to.
“It’s been well documented, the disappointment … but we know as a group we’re right there and we’re taking the right steps to put in a good performance. So really striving for that is what’s driving us and motivating us for this week.”
Not helping them is the heavy injury toll.
The Wallabies went to Paris with 36 players in the squad, but it was clear how brutal the tour was when eight of those faces weren’t at training on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in the Welsh capital. A further two, Bernard Foley and Will Skelton, weren’t present either because the match will be played outside the international window.
But despite the changing face of the Wallabies side, with the notable absences of Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Nic White and Foley, Dave Rennie won’t call in any other troops.
Any more injuries, however, and their coaching staff could well be getting the call-up.
Nonetheless, Holloway said the disappointment of seeing others leave because of injury provided opportunities for others and it was vital they deliver.
“As squad we need to lick our wounds and go again and because we got to another big Test match this weekend at Principality,” he said.
“What those injuries bring is a huge amount of opportunity for guys coming in, and those guys need to take that opportunity and we need to get a result as a team.
“We’re genuinely trying to tick every single box to get that result. It’s hard to describe what it would mean (to win), because it would be massive to get a result on the weekend, and we know that we’ll be put in the best position to do that from the coaching staff.
“It’s now on us as players to go deliver that whatever team we roll out.”
One person within the squad who knows plenty about injuries and opportunities is Jordan Petaia.
The Wallabies outside back had a strong showing against Ireland after coming on for his injured Queensland teammate Hunter Paisami.
Petaia scored the Wallabies’ only try against Ireland and delivered one of his best performances in years on his first visit to the Aviva Stadium.
He now shapes as a crucial figure in a backline missing experience and leadership.
Asked to sum up his stop-start career, which saw him break down on the eve of making his Test debut on the 2018 Spring Tour, Petaia reflected that he was thankful to string some matches together.
“Probably a bit of a roller-coaster,” he said.
“A bit like Jed, it’s probably the longest stretch of footy I’ve had this year in terms of health-wise, so it’s positive to look at it from that perspective.
“There’s been it’s been a lot of learnings, a lot of time spent probably rehabbing as well, but it’s just good to have a bit more footy this year.”