Wallabies call on James O’Connor to replace Quade Cooper

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie admits Australia’s lack of flyhalf options is a concern ahead of next year’s World Cup.

With 34-year-old playmaker Quade Cooper sidelined for up to nine months with a ruptured achilles tendon, Rennie has picked James O’Connor, 32, to wear the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey against Argentina on Sunday morning (AEST) in San Juan.

Reds star O’Connor was preferred to 22-year-old Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio, who is now on the selection outer after starting in all three Tests against England last month.

Rennie said he was keen to add to the Wallabies’ flyhalf depth, with others to come into selection contention for the remainder of the Rugby Championship when the Australians return home from Argentina.

He would not confirm reports that the contenders would include 32-year-old Bernard Foley, who most recently played for the Wallabies in 2019 before heading to Japan to play club rugby.

“It’s something that we’re talking about, and we’ve got a few plans around,” said Rennie, who admitted flyhalf was Australia’s “skinniest” position.

“We’ve got some good young kids coming through but not ready for this level.

“We got home and we’ve got South Africa and we’ve got the All Blacks, two of the best sides in the world, so it’s certainly an area of focus.

“We need to accelerate the development of our young 10s.”

Rennie said Lolesio had a long international career ahead of him but was not yet the finished product.

“We communicated that well in the areas we want him to better. He’s definitely working hard on growing his game,” the Wallabies coach said.

Rennie said the experience of the recalled O’Connor would be crucial this weekend in a Wallabies side missing Cooper, captain Michael Hooper, centre Samu Kerevi and prop Allan Alaalatoa.

“(O’Connor) is an important voice in amongst that backline. He’s prepared really well, he’s really excited to get a crack and keen to make the most of it,” he said of the 63-Test veteran.

“Attitude wise, he’s been brilliant. He’s constantly had a clearer picture of what he needed to do and (been) fully supportive of everyone else and helping them prepare well.

“It’s great that he gets an opportunity (on Sunday).”

O’Connor’s inclusion is one of four changes to the Wallabies side that started in last weekend’s 41-26 win over Argentina in Mendoza.

Prop Taniela Tupou replaces Alaalatoa – who has returned to Australia early for family reasons – while elsewhere in the forwards, lock Rory Arnold comes in for Matt Philip, who has also missed a spot on the bench.

There is also a change in the centres, with Lalakai Foketi named as the replacement for Hunter Paisami, who suffered a head knock last weekend.

Wallabies: James Slipper (c), Folau Fainga’a, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Darcy Swain, Jed Holloway, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright. Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa’amausili, Nick Frost, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Irae Simone, Reece Hodge.

Argentina: Tomas Gallo, Julian Montoya (c), Francisco Gómez Kodela, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Martín González, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera, Gonzalo Bertranou, Santiago Carreras, Juan Imhoff, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Moroni, Emiliano Boffelli, Juan Cruz Mallia. Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Joel Sclavi, Rodrigo Bruni, Tomas Cubelli, Tomas Albornoz, Lucio Cinti.

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