The Wallabies are pondering a front-row surprise by choosing their fifth starting hooker, Saia Fainga’a, in eight Tests this season.
Sixth-string rake Saia Fainga’a is a surprise contender to end the Wallabies hooker curse against the monster South African pack on Sunday morning (AEST).
His Queensland teammate James Hanson had appeared an automatic No.2 selection in Cape Town after Tatafu Polota-Nau’s rotten luck continued with injury against Argentina.
But Wallabies forwards coach Andrew Blades has revealed Fainga’a, who hasn’t started a Test since his debut international season in 2010, is firmly in the mix to lock horns with the Springbok front-row.
Hanson was regularly overlooked for Fainga’a whenever the Reds played a strong South African scrum this season, and Blades admitted Australia’s brains trust was also looking at following suit.
He also pointed to Hanson’s high work-rate around the field which could be a bigger advantage when the Mandela Plate decider opens up.
“That’s good for us and that’s what we’re pondering at the moment, the relative strengths of what they bring,” Blades said.
If preferred, Fainga’a would become the fifth starting hooker the Wallabies have used this year in eight Tests – behind Stephen Moore (knee), Polota-Nau (ankle), Nathan Charles (shoulder) and Hanson.
They have also lost Waratahs rake Tolu Latu to a broken arm.
Only once before in the professional era has Australia handed around the No.2 jersey so often, back in 2006 when John Connolly experimented with Tai McIsaac, Adam Freier, Jeremy Paul, Brendan Cannon and Moore in 13 Tests.
Fainga’a hasn’t even been on the bench this season, giving up his chance to play the Springboks in Perth when fiancee Alicia Antico gave birth to their first child on game day.
But his renowned flexibility under scrum pressure helps his case to leapfrog Hanson, who performed strongly in the 24-23 win over the Boks and also played the entire second half in the 32-25 last-start victory against the Pumas.
“Saia is the most flexible person on the team,” Blades said. “When you know there’s going to be some tough scrums Saia has been able to get himself in good position so he can still strike at the ball.
“Hanson has also been very good around the field this year, carried the ball well and been really aggressive around the tackle so we have to count those factors into the equation.”