Coach Ewen McKenzie is set to recall his stood-down Wallaby stars for their year-ending Test against Wales in Cardiff.
Banished three-quarters Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins appear set to return to the Wallabies’ starting side for their pivotal tour-ending Test against Wales next weekend.
The incumbent wingers were among five players stood down from Saturday night’s grinding 21-15 win over Scotland due to their late night out drinking in Dublin the previous week.
Their absence was made worse by injury to Matt Toomua and the suspension of fellow centre Tevita Kuridrani, but rookie winger Chris Feauai-Sautia and utility back Mike Harris performed admirably despite few attacking opportunities.
Coach Ewen McKenzie said the promoted pair’s efforts gave food for thought but hinted Ashley-Cooper and Cummins were forgiven and would be reinstated.
“My job isn’t to keep punishing people,” McKenzie said. “I took a stand (against the Dublin episode) and we expunge that and we move on.
“I moved on earlier in the week.
“We go back to the drawing board and pick our best team for Wales.”
While he had started his previous five Tests on the wing, Ashley-Cooper is most likely to return to outside centre.
Feauai-Sautia regards No.13 as his preferred position and has shown good form there for the Queensland Reds but Ashley-Cooper’s 90-Test experience is invaluable for the tricky defensive position in such a big game at Millennium Stadium.
“I’ll play anywhere but 13 would be good. It is my favourite position and, long term, I’d love to play 13,” the 20-year-old said.
Feauai-Sautia broke through a Sean Maitland tackle to score a second-half try against the Scots but might have to bide his time on the bench behind Cummins and fellow winger Joe Tomane.
Christian Leali’ifano would likely shift back to No.12 from outside centre at the expense of Harris but his hold on the goalkicking role has slipped following a rare bad day with the boot (four from nine) that left the Wallabies vulnerable at Murrayfield.
A win over Wales would give McKenzie a 6-6 record in his first season as coach and four straight wins to finish what would be seen as a successful European tour.
Welsh coach Warren Gatland, who guided the British and Irish Lions to their series victory in Australia this year, has already declared his side as extremely confident of ending their eight-Test losing streak to the Wallabies.
The Six Nations champions rested a number of big guns for their low-scoring win over Tonga on the weekend.
“Wales will certainly be targeting this game as an opportunity to knock us off,” said hooker Stephen Moore. “They’re pretty confident.
“It hasn’t happened often that we’ve strung three wins together so it’s good momentum for us and there’s a lot we can take out of the last three weeks.”