“We’re going to head into a World Cup year next year. The assumption is Quade will be fit and available hopefully, so we know a lot about him and Bernard. We want to find out about Ben. His versatility helps too. He can play [number] 15. We’ve got Noah who has a fair bit of experience to come into the game late.”
Donaldson, a Randwick junior, will have NSW teammate Jake Gordon alongside him at halfback this week, with fellow Waratahs youngster Mark Nawaqanitawase named for his third straight Test on the wing following an eye-catching performance in Australia’s 13-10 loss to Ireland.
Donaldson has the chance to rebuild his confidence by steering the Wallabies to victory in Cardiff and snapping Australia’s three-game losing streak to Wales.
Rennie’s decision to bench Lolesio, however, will pose more questions about his future. It’s hardly a show of faith in a player Wallabies coaches initially considered leaving out of the touring squad.
Tom Wright has been named at fullback and Jordan Petaia on the wing as part of eight changes Rennie has been forced to make to his starting XV.
“I think Tom Wright’s voice is massive and his work-rate off the ball [is great],” Rennie said. “Jordy was excellent when he came on – the best we’ve seen him play this year – so he’s probably more suited to the wing for us. He can move back there.”
Seven players – Michael Hooper, Nic White, Dave Porecki, Paisami, Andrew Kellaway, Taniela Tupou and Rob Valetini – were unavailable due to injuries and concussion protocols after the bruising Ireland Test. Australia only had 25 fit players to choose from.
Former Wallabies captain and halfback George Gregan was spotted at training on Wednesday giving the team a few tips.
The sad reality is that one injury to a halfback – or hooker – before Saturday’s match would require the team to send out an SOS.
Former Wallabies star Drew Mitchell, who played his last Test in 2016, sent out a light-hearted tweet this week.
“Not sure if this is relevant information but I will be in Cardiff this weekend. Just saying,” Mitchell wrote.
Asked what would happen if a back went down, Rennie said: “I hear Drew Mitchell is available. It’s probably a 6-2 [forward and backs] split. The injuries are a massive negative.”
Prop Matt Gibbon and second-rower Darcy Swain are the only two players in the squad who won’t be used, while tight-head prop Sam Talakai is in line to make his Wallabies debut off the bench.
Rennie wants one last big push from the battered and bruised Wallabies against a Welsh side who fell to Georgia last week.
“They’ll be hurting. We’re hurting as well,” Rennie said. “We put a lot into last week’s effort and came up short. They’re probably getting it in the media here and they’ll want a response. We fully understand the intensity required.
“You’ve got to find a way to win.”