By Tom Decent
Tate McDermott is in the box seat for a maiden Wallabies start in the first Test against France after fellow halfback Nic White was ruled out of the series with a knee injury.
It comes as Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos said plans had not changed to host the first Test at the SCG despite growing concerns over a COVID-19 outbreak in the city and the possibility of reduced crowd.
The Wallabies confirmed on Wednesday afternoon White suffered a medial cruciate ligament injury this week that will sideline him for all three upcoming Tests, set down for the SCG (July 7), AAMI Park (July 13) and Suncorp Stadium (July 17).
He is a chance of returning for Bledisloe Cup matches, beginning on August 7 in Auckland, but will return to Canberra to begin recovery.
White suffered the injury during Wallabies training at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast, where the team will be based until just before their opening encounter against the world’s fifth ranked side.
Two other senior Wallabys are also under an injury cloud. No.10 James O’Connor is managing a groin issue, which has seen him miss parts of training in recent days, while Matt To’omua is in Canberra recovering from a neck injury.
The Wallabies expect To’omua to return to camp by Sunday, while O’Connor will be given all the time he needs over the next fortnight but the 30-year-old is not 100 per cent certain to play in the first Test.
France’s touring party arrived in Sydney on Tuesday evening and will be in hotel quarantine until the eve of the match. The group will be able to train during the quarantine period.
There were concerns France may boycott the tour due to strict quarantine restrictions but an arrangement has been struck and RA is relieved to see the team on Australian shores.
The Wallabies have a number of other halfbacks in the group, including two-Test No.9 McDermott, plus Ryan Lonergan and Jake Gordon.
McDermott came off the bench in Sydney and Brisbane last year against the All Blacks and after a good Super Rugby campaign is favoured to wear the gold No.9 jersey.
That is also due to the fact Lonergan is yet to make his Test debut and Gordon is also recovering from a MCL injury.
However, Wallabies officials say Gordon’s return from injury is going better than expected and he could feature at some point in the series. It means Lonergan is in line for a debut.
Meanwhile, rising COVID-19 cases in Sydney have officials on high alert a fortnight out from the beginning of the international calendar.
The NSW government has also imposed a 50 per cent limit on crowds for the next seven days following 16 new local cases in the past 24 hours.
RA may be tempted to move the SCG match to another city if cases increase and further public health restrictions are enforced.
Another option is for the team to fly in and fly out on matchday, as was done in Super Rugby last year.
Queensland and Victoria have closed their borders to NSW residents from hotspot areas in the eastern suburbs and central Sydney.
In a statement, Marinos said: “Appreciating that we continue to operate in a dynamic environment with COVID-19 impacts, we are moving ahead with our plans to host these matches as planned, subject to any further advice from our state government partners.
“We are now just two weeks away from the start of the series, which kicks off with the Wallabies’ first match at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground in 35 years.
“We’re delighted to confirm the French team’s arrival into Australia last night as we prepare to host the Test series next month.
“I want to thank Bernard Laporte, Fabien Galthié and the FFR for their partnership in ensuring this series could go ahead. It has been a mammoth effort by all involved.”
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