As captain James Slipper spoke optimistically about their end of season Spring Tour and Michael Hooper’s return, the Wallabies were hit with the devastating news second-rower Matt Philip is set for a long stint on the sidelines.
The Wallabies only regrouped together on Monday night, but were rocked at training on Wednesday morning when Philip went down with a knee-injury.
The hardworking 28-year-old was driven away on Wednesday to hospital, where scans confirmed the 27-Test lock suffered an ACL injury.
It’s a shocking blow for the Wallabies, who on Wednesday evening fly to Paris where they will familiarise themselves with next year’s World Cup training base, which is just outside Lyon.
The Wallabies will then travel to Edinburgh ahead of the first of five Tests, which gets underway against Scotland at Murrayfield on October 30.
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It’s a mammoth tour for a squad that has been playing since early February and is being built as their own Six Nations campaign, without the fallow weeks.
But their depth will face an early test following Philip’s injury blow.
Dave Rennie is already without second-rowers Darcy Swain (suspension) and Will Skelton, who will join the Wallabies ahead of the second Test against France.
Rennie might not pull anyone into the squad, but with Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and 106-Test stalwart Rob Simmons both plying their trade in England, a phone call to either lock is not beyond the realms of possibilities.
Simmons, 33, is one of the best lineout callers in Australian rugby and Salakaia-Loto has just joined Northampton Saints, but already there are whispers the former Reds lock could be thinking twice about his move.
The Wallabies will head to Europe as a fallen powerhouse, who are out to prove to themselves as much as anyone that they are World Cup contenders.
It has been years since they were feared by rival nations, with the Wallabies not winning in Dublin since 2013 while Wales and Scotland are on three-match winning streaks against Australia.
The Wallabies can beat anyone on their day but consistency has been their Achilles heel in recent years and has led to the two-time world champions sliding to No.9 on World Rugby’s rankings.
“The Australians love an underdog especially the Queenslanders, but we want to go there with the expectation to win as well,” Slipper told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“We’re not going over there to come second.
“It’s all about going out there and doing it. It’s no good me standing here in front of you talking about what I want to do, it’s about going out there and doing it.
“I mentioned earlier in the year that to have a good World Cup, you need to string at least seven games together and we’ve got five in front of us now against world-class opposition.
“It’s going to be hard but it’s one we’re excited by and the overarching theme for us is consistency.”
The Wallabies have been given a boost by Hooper’s return.
The inspirational openside flanker, who has started 115 of 121 Tests, was named on Sunday in the squad for the first time since withdrawing on the eve of the Rugby Championship.
Slipper has led the side in his absence and could well captain the Wallabies through to next year’s World Cup, but for now veteran prop was just excited to see Hooper back doing what he does best.
“Firstly, it’s just great to see him back,” Slipper said.
“Hoops has been a big part of our team for the best part of a decade if not more so.
“Just to have his experience around the team, around the squad, naturally, that’ll lift the boys a fair bit.
“As a good mate of his I’m really happy he’s back fit and healthy and that’s the most important thing.
“Secondary, the captaincy, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if Hoops concentrates on himself – we want him enjoying himself and being happy.
“I was happy to take the leadership role for the rest of the year and whatever happens in the future that can happen but my focus is on the tour and there’s a couple of big games coming.”
While the Wallabies are bracing for another tough tour, with four of the five nations they will play ahead of them on the World Rugby rankings, Slipper said he hoped the trip would be a springboard for next year’s World Cup in the same way Michael Cheika’s first tour on charge sewed the seeds for their run in 2015.
“You kind of want that momentum running into a World Cup and for us it’s a great opportunity to start that momentum now,” he said.
“There’s a lot of games to go before the World Cup and that’s something that we can work on game in game out is just keep getting better and better.
“That 2014 was a bit of a change of the guard with Cheik coming in and had a good roll into the World Cup.
“Hopefully we can do the same.”
‘They’ve played better than Suli’: Big names dropped as Wallabies spring surprises for tour
Wallabies v Scotland, Sunday 30 October, 3:30am AEDT at BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Wallabies v France, Sunday 6 November, 7:00am AEDT at Stade de France, Paris
Wallabies v Italy, Sunday 13 November, 12:00am AEDT at Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Wallabies v Ireland, Sunday 20 November, 7:00am AEDT at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Wallabies v Wales, Sunday 27 November, 2:15am AEDT at Principality Stadium, Cardiff