Taniela Tupou looks set to miss the first Test against England as the Wallabies draft in reinforcements for the wrecking ball prop.
Tupou, the face of the three-Test series against England, is still battling the calf injury that ruled him out of the back end of the Super Rugby season and Wallabies coaches want to play it safe and not risk doing further damage by rushing him back.
In a double whammy in the specialist tight head position, squad member Harry Johnson-Holmes left camp with an injury to his achilles tendon, and the Wallabies called up recently-signed Rebels prop Sam Talakai.
It is a big blow for the Wallabies and Rugby Australia, who were hoping for a late spike in ticket sales to help boost an expected crowd of 45,000 at Optus Stadium on Saturday. Tupou is the most marketable character in Australian rugby as well as a devastating weapon on the field.
The news will likely force a front row re-think, with loosehead James Slipper in the frame to switch to the other side so the Wallabies do not lose experience in the first Test in Perth this week.
Allan Ala’alatoa would start in the No.3 jersey, with Slipper coming off the bench over the uncapped Pone Fa’amausili. Selectors could look to NSW loosehead Angus Bell to start in the No.1 jersey, with departing Brumbies prop Scott Sio as cover off the bench.
Sources told the Herald that Tupou was dealing with the same injury that saw David Pocock miss five months in 2019. Tupou suffered the injury at the start of May, and although the 38-Test prop is progressing faster than was first predicted, the Wallabies do not want Tupou to suffer the same fate as Pocock, who missed most of the 2019 Super Rugby season.
The switch up could see an all-new Wallabies front row face England on Saturday, depending on who coach Dave Rennie selects to start at hooker.
Folau Fainga’a is the incumbent in the No.2 jersey after starting all three Tests there on Australia’s spring tour last year. But after a standout season with the Waratahs, Dave Porecki is many critics’ choice at hooker. He would make his Test debut at the ripe age of 29 and bring five seasons’ worth of experience in the English Premiership to the table.
Porecki was giving nothing away on Sunday but described the possibility as a “dream come true” after leaving Australia to take up a four-month contract with Saracens in 2015. That turned into a year with the top English club - and a friendship with England hooker Jamie George - before Porecki headed to London Irish, where he spent four successful seasons.
“If it was to happen and I was to be in the 23 it would be a dream come true for me, ever since I left the Waratahs in 2015,” he said. “If I’ve learned anything it’s that you need to keep a cool head, especially when things don’t go your way. Momentum swings come and go so if you can keep a cool head in those moments and problem solve, that will serve you well.”
Porecki has played most of his professional career in England but does not believe his experience there will give him any advantage if he is picked in this series.
“As a hooker in general, no matter who you play with or against, you need to be able to match them physically or you’ll get blown away,” he said.
“The Premiership revolves around set piece and physicality. There’s three or four months of the year that you can’t play expansively over there, so you’re reliant on your set piece and close quarter collisions.
“You know that’s what England are going to bring. They’re going to try to dominate you up front, control territory and play in the right areas of the field. You need to be able to match that.”