Young playmaker Carter Gordon is set to pay the price for the Wallabies’ shock Rugby World Cup loss to Fiji, demoted to the bench for their must-win clash with Wales.
The 22-year-old was replaced in the 50th minute of their 22-15 defeat, which has put the Australians in grave danger of missing the quarter-finals for the first time in tournament history.
The Wallabies must beat Wales on Sunday (Monday AEST) in Lyon to have any chance of reaching the playoffs, with coach Eddie Jones reportedly turning to Ben Donaldson.
The fullback shifted to replace Gordon at 10 and looked comfortable as the Wallabies mounted a second-half fightback against the Fijians and while the team won’t be officially revealed until Thursday, it’s reported he will get the nod for the crunch match.
Andrew Kellaway, who was the Wallabies’ first-choice fullback heading to France, will make his first appearance of the World Cup starting at 15.
Gordon is set for a bench role as cover for goal kicker Donaldson, who wasn’t even the NSW Waratahs’ top pick as five-eighth through the Super Rugby Pacific season.
Wallabies halfback Tate McDermott defended Gordon, who was targeted by the Fijians and conceded four turnovers, with his error taking a high ball contributing to their only try.
The Australians were out-muscled at the breakdown which meant Gordon and the attack was always on the back-foot.
“I just want to make it really clear, it wasn’t just Carter who had a tough day out there,” said the vice-captain, who missed the match through concussion protocols.
“There’s definitely other people in the same boat, and particularly being in a position, where I’m halfback, he’s a flyhalf, if we’re losing that battle at the breakdown it’s a very tough day regardless.”
McDermott said that the Melbourne Rebels youngster had responded well to being replaced so early in the Saint-Etienne match.
“He’s been good, he’s really resilient,” the Queenslander said.
“I’m really close with them and he’s incredibly disappointed, of course, and the whole squad is because of that performance.
“But you’ve got to have a short memory, particularly given how important his preparation will be into this next game.”
Wallabies assistant coach Dan Palmer refused to confirm the line-up changes ahead of the team announcement, but said Donaldson offered composure in the five-eighth role.
“We’ve got two 10s that we’re confident in and they’re pushing each other really hard,” Palmer said.
“Donno (Donaldson) brings a level of composure to that position … we’ll just pick the guy who’s right for this weekend.”
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