Wallabies v Wales: Michael Hooper joins long Australian injury list
Wallabies centre Len Ikitau did his best to put the burden of blame for a lean European tour on the players and not embattled coach Dave Rennie as the tourists were dealt another crushing injury blow.
Former captain Michael Hooper became the ninth player to be sent home with injury, ruled out of this weekend’s final game against Wales with concussion.
He’s the third player to be sent home with concussion, joining Nic White and Dave Porecki, leaving Rennie scrambling to fill his team with Taniela Tupou (achilles), Rob Valetini (ankle), Andrew Kellaway (foot) and Hunter Paisami also having departed.
Centre Lalakai Foketi (leg) and Tom Banks (ankle) were mid-tour casualties.
Fijian-born Langi Gleeson will make his first Wallabies start as a replacement for Valetini, the 21-year-old having turned to rugby after spending time with NRL club South Sydney in their under-20s.
The glut of injuries not just on this tough but throughout the past two years has forced Rennie to use 50 players in 14 Tests, the equal-most used in a season, having also used 50 in 2021.
It makes efforts to secure the final match victory, and avoid the Wallabies’ worst calendar year results since 1958, that much harder.
Another defeat in Cardiff would only add to the pile on on Rennie.
Since opening the tour with a 16-15 win over Scotland, the Wallabies have lost to France (30-29), Italy (28-27) and world No.1 Ireland (13-10), and the narrow margins are enough for Ikitau to suggest the finger should be pointed at he and his teammates, not the coach.
“It‘s more on the players there,” he said.
“Dave’s got an awesome system and the way he wants to play, and for us it’s going out there and executing it.
“I just don’t think we’ve been doing that the last couple of weeks, especially against Italy.
“It would be nice to finish off our last game with a win and go forward from there.”
The massive injury list has forced positional reshuffles too, with Ikitau, who normally plays at outside centre, forced to shift to the No.12 jersey against Ireland after Paisami went down early in the match.
It’s not totally unfamiliar territory for Ikitau, and gives him the chance to develop some versatility ahead of next year’s World Cup.
“I’ve played 12 maybe three times my whole career, and it’s against the All Blacks, South Africa, and Ireland,” Ikitau said.
“That‘s three big teams. It’s pretty tough.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I love playing 13, but 12 is a good learning experience for me.”
Jordan Petaia is set to start at fullback and knows the importance of a final win after a long tour.
“Looking back at the Italy game, the boys were gutted,” Petaia said.
“And the Ireland game, it was a tough finish, so the boys want to turn things around.
“We‘re looking to get a strong win and will be fired up again this week.”