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Saint-Etienne: Star Wallabies prop Taniela Tupou has missed a key training session ahead of Australia’s all-important Test against Fiji in France Eddie Jones weighs up whether to again pick Ben Donaldson at fullback or return to Andrew Kellaway.
Last week, there was some concern Samu Kerevi would not play against Georgia after he missed a warm-up with teammates during the week but the No.12 was selected and performed well in Australia’s opening 35-15 win in Paris.
Once again, there were raised eyebrows at Wallabies training in Saint-Etienne on Wednesday when Tupou walked out in his joggers as forwards and backs were split up and run through their paces.
During a 15-minute opportunity for vision and photos to be taken, Tupou did his own thing.
Jones likes to keep the media guessing and is keeping his cards close to his chest ahead of a team announcement at 5.30pm Friday (AEST) for the Fiji match two days later.
Assistant coach Jason Ryles said Tupou, who was one of Australia’s best players on the field at Stade de France, did not take part in the session.
James Slipper and Taniela Tupou during a Wallabies training session at the Rugby World Cup. Credit: Getty
“Taniela is on the sideline at the moment. He has got a bit of a hamstring complaint but we’re just going to monitor him and just see how he goes over the next couple of days,” Ryles said.
“[He] didn’t train today, no. That’s not unusual for Taniela, don’t worry.”
The Wallabies will target Fiji’s scrum on the weekend and would love Tupou resuming his place at tight-head prop after a damaging display in Paris.
Fellow prop James Slipper, who was ruled out of the Georgia Test due to a tendon problem in his foot, is edging closer to a return but appears more likely to take part in a crunch fixture against Wales on September 24.
Samu Kerevi looks on at Wallabies training in Saint-Etienne. Credit: Getty
“Slips has been managed at this stage,” Ryles said. “I think he’s certainly in the picture but we’re not exactly sure how that’s going to pan out, whether it’s this week or next week.
“Himself and Pone [Fa’amausili] have been doing a lot of stuff off the field and then dropping into training at different stages. I’m not sure if it will be this week but they’ll be close.
If Australia can beat Fiji, they will all but guarantee a spot in the quarter-finals.
Jones is not expected to make wholesale changes to his Wallabies starting XV but needs to start either Nic White or Issak Fines-Leleiwasa after first-choice halfback Tate McDermott was ruled out with concussion.
The other major selection headache is who to go with at fullback.
Donaldson scored 25 points in a man-of-the-match performance against Georgia but not everyone believes the Waratahs playmaker is the answer at fullback.
Former Wallaby Mat Rogers, who played fullback in the 2003 World Cup final, would go with Kellaway for the Fiji clash.
“I don’t think they have to keep [Donaldson],” said Rogers on Stan Sport. “I think what you lose in goal-kicking you make up for in playing ability [by picking Kellaway]. I’m not taking anything away from Ben Donaldson’s performance but this is going to be an incredibly physical match. I think Andrew Kellaway plays the match a little more physical than Donaldson.
“I noticed a couple of things that I wasn’t rapt with in terms of Ben’s performance defensively and that’s a concern given who we’re coming up against.”
The Wallabies may consider Kellaway on the bench, in place of Lalakai Foketi, while second-rower Nick Frost is close to a return after picking up a nasty cut on his ear in the Bledisloe Cup that has required regular stitching.
“He’s good to go,” said back-rower Tom Hooper of Frost. “He’s running out there with a water polo cap on. He’s got a little bit of a home job, cut a hole in the headgear, put a water polo cap on.”
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