JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Australia coach Michael Cheika may be set to end the Kurtley Beale flyhalf experiment and restore Bernard Foley to the number 10 shirt for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash with rejuvenated South Africa.
Having started the tournament at inside centre, Beale replaced Foley as starting flyhalf for the tight win over the Springboks in Brisbane and remained in the pivotal position for the demoralising loss against Argentina in the Gold Coast.
While the promoted Matt Toomua impressed at inside centre, Beale was unconvincing in both matches, prompting local media to demand Foley take back the reins for Saturday’s match in Port Elizabeth.
With the Wallabies under fire after slipping to seventh in the world rankings, Cheika said he was ready to play “any combination”.
“It’s a matter of whether we want to build on the last two games (and) give those guys another opportunity,” he said in Port Elizabeth.
“Or do we throw Bernard back in there? I have a pretty solid idea of what I want to do but we will have to let it unfold.
“I don’t think (Foley) was dragging the chain or anything. That certainly wasn’t the reason behind making the change.
“We wanted to take a look at a different combination there and we will have a talk about it and see how they go together.”
Cheika poured cold water on the idea of shifting Beale to fullback, however, which would allow him a spot in the starting 15 along with Toomua and Foley.
Dane Haylett-Petty started at fullback against South Africa and Argentina with the long-time holder of the number 15 shirt, Israel Folau, shifting to the wing for the latter match.
“I think Dane’s been very good,” Cheika said. “I don’t think that would be a play right now.”
Australia’s ever-changing back row is set for further upheaval against a South Africa side that reignited their season with a stunning 36-34 win over the All Blacks in Wellington.
Blindside flanker Lukhan Tui declined to join the tour for “personal reasons” following the death of his step-father and a clash with a disgruntled Wallabies fan after the Pumas loss at Robina.
One of his possible replacements, Pete Samu, is also sidelined with a knee problem, leaving Cheika with either Ned Hanigan or the uncapped Angus Cottrell to cover the blindside.
Captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper, who was a late withdrawal from the Argentina match, is expected to return from a hamstring strain in a rare piece of good news for the Wallabies.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)