Out for another month … injured James O'Connor receives attention after colliding with Berrick Barnes at Allianz Stadium last month. Photo: Getty Images
CONCERNS that the Wallabies may suffer an embarrassment similar to losing to Samoa last season and Scotland in 2009 have convinced Test selectors to force key players to back up three times in one week when the international series starts next month.
But one who won't be considered is utility back James O'Connor after scans on his lacerated liver yesterday indicated it will be at least another month before he is able to return to contact training.
The Wallabies were planning to select a make-shift Test team to play Scotland in Newcastle on June 5, as it was only a few days after a Super Rugby round and four days before they play Wales, the Six Nations champions, the following Saturday in Brisbane.
The collision ... Berrick Barnes of the Waratahs and the Rebels James O'Connor. Photo: Getty Images
Coach Robbie Deans was hesitant about forcing players to back up after the Super round and mindful he would need some major players fresh for the Welsh international, which the tourists are preparing for by sending an advance party to Brisbane while others are involved in a Barbarians fixture in Cardiff.
The original plan was for the Scotland Test team to revolve primarily around Force and Red players, who have the bye the previous Saturday. But now the Test line-up will also include a core of key Rebels, Brumbies and Waratahs representatives who are either playing on the Friday or Saturday night, which will put them back in the Test jersey three or four days after their previous appearance.
The Wallabies team management wants to avoid the humiliation of last July when their World Cup campaign began with defeat by a near unknown Samoan line-up in Sydney. They also look upon this backing-up exercise as a test of player resolve.
Deans needs no reminding that Scotland have put him through enormous pain, with easily the most dreadful loss in his five seasons as Australian coach occurring in November 2009 when an unfancied Scotland beat a dishevelled Wallabies 9-8 at Murrayfield - the worst Australian Test performance in years.
In both losses, the Wallabies fielded reasonable line-ups, which has further convinced selectors of the dangers of playing a second-string line-up against Scotland. Deans will rely heavily on the Reds contingent and a smattering of Force players headed by their captain David Pocock to play Scotland, but he is also expected to call on Rebels five-eighth Kurtley Beale, who will play the previous Friday night against the Brumbies in Melbourne.
Beale's sidekick O'Connor will remain a spectator for some time yet, having tweeted yesterday after a scan on his liver that he is weeks off from playing again.
The Test selectors may also hold off selecting Quade Cooper, who made his return for the Reds last weekend after a seven-month absence recovering from a knee reconstruction, until the Rugby Championship against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina later in the season.
Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore is another expected to be brought into the Test line-up, while the most obvious Waratah to get a call-up after appearing against the Hurricanes in Sydney on the previous Saturday night would be loosehead prop Benn Robinson.
Deans also has plenty of players involved in the losses to Samoa and Scotland who would be wanting a chance to redeem themselves.
Test candidates who were at Murrayfield on that infamous night are Adam Ashley-Cooper, Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Will Genia, Robinson, Moore, Ben Alexander, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu.
Survivors of the Samoan ordeal are Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Nick Phipps, Ben McCalman, Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, Alexander, Moore, Kepu, Scott Higginbotham, Genia and Beale.