Western Force centre pair Ryan Cross and Scott Staniforth are both facing a recovery race to be involved in Robbie Deans’ first Wallaby squad.
RugbyHeaven Aus reports that both players will have surgery this week which will end their Super 14 seasons.
Cross, who has not missed a game for the Western Force since his defection from the NRL last year, will have a triple fracture of the cheekbone operated on today, throwing his international ambitions and the Force’s preparations for this weekend’s clash with the Hurricanes into confusion.
The Force’s most improved and consistent player will have a small plate inserted to stabilise the fractures around the eye socket, which were suffered in the one-point victory over the Chiefs at Subiaco last Saturday but only discovered yesterday.
That will leave Cross with an estimated four-week lay off — taking his availability up to around June 7. Deans takes over the Wallabies reins on June 2 and the first Test of the year is against Ireland in Melbourne on June 14.
Staniforth meanwhile, is due to undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee on Thursday, which will leave him with a similar recovery time to Cross and identical fears he may miss out on Deans’ initial selection.
A scan last week revealed that a microscopic cartilage tear Staniforth had started the season with had opened to 15mm, sidelining him the last two games of the Force’s season.
With James O’Connor to keep his Staniforth’s place at 12, Force coach John Mitchell has continued his faith in youth, preferring to hand another league convert Josh Tatupu his run-on Super 14 debut rather than the revert to the experience of Lachlan Mackay.
Having made his debut as a substitute during the Force’s tour of South Africa, the 21-year-old Tatupu tried to avoid the TV cameras as the team left for New Zealand this morning. But he will have nowhere to hide against a Hurricanes backline including Maa Nonu, Conrad Smith and Tane Tuipolotu.
A former Melbourne Storm rugby league prospect, the New Zealand born centre/winger plied his trade with French rugby league club SM Pia XIII in 2007, and has also represented Western Samoa at international level.
And having played alongside him for the Kalamunda Bulls during the Western Force’s bye week, Force winger Drew Mitchell said he was left with a favourable impression.
“He has come from rugby league, he has been with the Melbourne Storm squad and is someone who brings a lot of excitement, he has fantastic footwork on him and brings a real energy with him,” Mitchell said.
“The Hurricanes have got a great backline with Maa Nonu and Conrad Smith are going to be a test for our two in the midfield.
“But they will bring a lot of excitement, and if they can go out there and have a positive first touch then hopefully things go well.”
Haig Sare was the other surprise on the place, having made a rapid recovery from an ankle injury that was feared to have ended his year.
The selection of Tatupu, O’Connor and young West Australian product Dane Haylett-Petty means the Force will have a trio of backs with just 137 minutes of Super 14 experience against the third-placed Hurricanes.
But the semi-final contender will have more on their mind than the Force this weekend, with reports out of the UK ferocious backrow legend Jerry Collins has asked for early clearance from his NZRU contract to join the Kiwi exodus to Britain.
Western Force: Cameron Shepherd, Dane Haylett-Petty, Josh Tatupu, James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, James Stannard, Richard Brown, David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sharpe (capt), David Pusey, Troy Takiari, Tai McIsaac, Gareth Hardy.
Reserves: Luke Holmes, Kieran Longbottom, Sitaleki Timani, Sam Wykes, Chris O’Young, Scott Daruda, Haig Sare.