Discarded lock James Horwill is set to be among a host of Wallabies squad-members to audition for Test spots in NRC action this weekend.
Former Test skipper James Horwill will lead the charge of Wallabies auditioning for recalls through the new National Rugby Championship this weekend.
Horwill is training with his NRC team, Brisbane City, in preparation for his first match in seven weeks to stake a claim for Australia’s next Rugby Championship clash with South Africa on Saturday week.
The Queensland Reds captain and second-row stalwart is a serious chance of jumping from Wallabies discard to starter against the Springboks in Perth following last weekend’s 51-20 defeat to New Zealand.
Test coach Ewen McKenzie has admitted he’s looking closely at a range of selection changes and will run the rule over a number of hungry squad-members in NRC action this weekend.
Horwill could be among up to 10 current Wallabies given chances to show their wares, after four fringe players – Christian Lealiifano, Peter Betham, Tom English and Paddy Ryan – played in the inaugural NRC round last weekend.
Helping the 51-Test lock, Brisbane City’s game against Perth Spirit will be played on Sunday after the Wallabies squad arrives in Western Australia.
McKenzie and his fellow selectors will get the chance to see Ben McCalman and Matt Hodgson, set for an intriguing battle with 16-Test flanker Liam Gill, playing for the Spirit.
“I think everyone has got a point to prove,” said Gill. “Both teams want more players in the Wallabies squad and both have a handful of players who will really want to step up to make that (team).”
It will be interesting to see if McKenzie also releases bench players like lock Will Skelton and back-rower Scott Higginbotham, who have played less than a half of rugby in the two Bledisloe games, or protects them for the upcoming Test.
Hookers James Hanson and Saia Fainga’a, rated fourth and sixth in the country this year, will almost certainly be rested due to the current hooking crisis that has sidelined Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nathan Charles and Tolu Latu.
Hopes of Brumbies wingers Joe Tomane and Henry Speight (hamstring strains) returning this weekend in the NRC have faded, but Tomane remains an outside chance to play the Springboks.
Speight and Will Genia (ankle) are more likely for the Wallabies trip to South Africa and Argentina late next month.
While the NRC is providing under-used and injured Wallabies with much-needed match practice, Brisbane coach Nick Stiles also saw great benefit in Test stars training and playing in the third-tier competition.
“To have the calibre of Liam Gill and James Horwill coming back to the group will be a great experience for our blokes,” he said.