Star Wallabies fullback Israel Folau is in major doubt for Saturday’s World Cup clash with Wales with an ankle injury, dealing their hopes of finishing atop Pool A a serious blow.
Folau has failed to train so far this week and backs coach Stephen Larkham suggested he would again sit out when the Wallabies go through their paces in south London on Tuesday, before a scheduled rest day on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old rolled his ankle late in the Wallabies’ comprehensive 33-13 victory over England at Twickenham last weekend, which confirmed their place in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
But they still have much to play for on Saturday (Sunday AEDT) against Wales, with the victor taking out top spot in Pool A and getting the easier side of the draw for the quarter-finals.
The winner will play the runner-up from Pool B, likely to be Scotland or Japan, while the loser faces a difficult quarter-final against South Africa before a likely semi-final against New Zealand.
The loss of Folau would require a major recalibration of the Wallabies’ attack, with the code-hopping superstar central to many of their backline moves.
The former NRL and AFL star had a quiet match against England, and bombed a certain try when he failed to capitalise on an overlap with an unmarked Rob Horne outside him early in the match.
However there is no doubt his attacking prowess and big-game experience will be a huge asset to the Wallabies as they approach the knockout matches – and having him at full fitness will be essential.
Compounding things, coach Michael Cheika will also be without Horne, whose shoulder injury is threatening his entire World Cup campaign.
The Wallabies are desperate for Horne to return, and have stated they will give him every chance to recover to play a part later in the tournament – even if that means sitting out for a fortnight to let the shoulder complaint settle.
But he is considered no chance of facing Wales this weekend.
Veteran Drew Mitchell is favoured to step onto the left wing to replace Horne, while the versatile Kurtley Beale also put his hand up with an impressive performance coming off the bench against England.
Beale would be the natural replacement at fullback should Folau fail to recover in time.
The problems aren’t just contained to the backs either with vice-captain and flanker Michael Hooper facing a ban of between two and ten weeks after being cited for alleged foul play during the win over England.
Cheika will name his team on Thursday.