Nick Phipps ... tipped for the top. Photo: Getty Images
JAMES O'CONNOR has backed Melbourne teammate Nick Phipps to ''excel'' at halfback after the loss of Wallabies linchpin Will Genia.
Phipps was chosen in the Wallabies squad for the Rugby World Cup more than a year ago but has warmed the bench ever since, while Australia grew more dependent on Genia's excellence.
But the Sydney-raised Rebel's time has come after news Genia would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury incurred during the Wallabies win against the Springboks in Perth.
O'Connor, who joined Wallabies camp on the Gold Coast and hopes to be ready to tour in two weeks, believes his teammate is ready to face the challenge.
''I think he's going to handle it quite well, he's played two years of Super Rugby, he's been involved with the Wallabies for two to three years now, so he does have experience behind him and he has been around Willy for a while now,'' O'Connor said.
''His style of play will definitely suit [five-eighth Quade Cooper] anyway, he's got a good pass and he's not afraid to take the line on.''
Genia's loss is the latest blow to the Wallabies, who were only just coming to terms with injuries to new captain David Pocock and his predecessor James Horwill.
''It's always tough losing a member of your team, especially since Willy's our captain and one of our core players in the team. But I think Nick's going to step up, he's a very physical sort of guy, he throws his weight around well,'' O'Connor said.
''And I think against a team like the Pumas, who are going to be tough up front, you need a character like that who's going to go in hard.''
O'Connor said the Pumas' performance against New Zealand at the weekend showed they could not be written off outside Argentina.
But he laughed at comments after the 21-5 defeat that the Pumas tried to stall the ball at the ruck.
''New Zealand can't really point fingers there, they're the biggest culprits in world rugby at slowing down the footy, so maybe they just got a taste of their own medicine,'' O'Connor said. ''It's no secret that we like to play front-foot ball, that we like to play rugby … but you adapt to what's happening on the field and if they want to slow the ball down then let's hope the ref picks that up, but there's also ways to counter that.''
O'Connor's mooted return against South Africa in Pretoria at the end of the month cannot come soon enough for the Wallabies and the 22-year-old himself, who endured serious injuries to his liver and hamstring this year.
But characteristically upbeat, O'Connor found positives in his extended lay-off. ''I'm not going to lie it has been really frustrating but at the same time it's been refreshing, I've never had a pre-season before and being able to have a good 15 weeks to train and get my body to a place it's never been before,'' he said.