Bernard Foley has been named in his first Australia squad since the 2019 World Cup, with James O’Connor axed, as coach Dave Rennie ponders his flyhalf options for the Rugby Championship tests against South Africa.
Foley was former coach Michael Cheika’s go-to man in the position but has spent the last three years playing in Japan.
With Quade Cooper suffering a long-term Achilles’ injury and O’Connor carrying the can for the 48-17 demolition by Argentina in San Juan last weekend, 32-year-old Foley may have a chance to add to his 71 Wallabies caps.
It may not be against world champions South Africa in Adelaide next week, though, with Foley short of match fitness and needing to get up to speed with the Wallabies’ game-plan.
“That’s a challenge, isn’t it? He hasn’t played an enormous amount of rugby,” Rennie, who sounded out Foley last year about a return to test rugby, told reporters on Thursday.
“He’s been doing additional training. We’ve been having our staff have a decent look at him … We’ll make a call once we’ve got him in camp on Sunday.”
Rennie picked O’Connor at 10 in San Juan, opting for experience in an injury-hit squad over developing flyhalf Noah Lolesio, but was unimpressed by the Wallabies’ “clunky” play.
“(We) lacked cohesion so he’s missed out on selection,” Rennie said.
“You’d imagine he’s pretty devastated. He’s desperate to be a Wallaby … He needs to convince us that he can implement the plan that we want.”
Rennie welcomed back reinforcements to his 35-man squad after a horror run of injuries this season.
Winger Andrew Kellaway and props Angus Bell and Scott Sio are back from injury, while Allan Alaalatoa, centre Hunter Paisami and hooker Dave Porecki all return after leaving the Argentina tour early for personal and injury reasons.
However, Rennie could offer no timeline for the return of long-serving captain Michael Hooper, who withdrew abruptly from the squad in Argentina due to wellbeing reasons.
There was also no room in the squad for Kurtley Beale, though Rennie said the veteran playmaker would come into camp on the Gold Coast next week with a view to playing later in the season.
Young New South Wales Waratahs loose forward Langi Gleeson made his first Wallabies squad after strong performances with the Australia ‘A’ team in the Pacific Nations Cup.
Queensland Reds fullback Jock Campbell is the only other uncapped player in the squad.
Forwards – Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Angus Bell, Pone Fa’amausili, Folau Fainga’a, Nick Frost, Langi Gleeson, Jed Holloway, Rob Leota, Lachlan Lonergan, Fraser McReight, Matt Philip, Dave Porecki, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Harry Wilson
Backs – Jock Campbell, Lalakai Foketi, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Tate McDermott, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Nic White, Tom Wright