LONDON, 29 Sept - Australia have suffered a double blow in the build-up to their critical World Cup game with England with influential forwards Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton forced out of the tournament on Tuesday through injury.
Palu (pictured), the Wallabies’ respected number eight, has probably played his last game for his country after the hamstring injury that forced him to come off at half-time in the 65-3 win against Uruguay on Sunday.
Lock Skelton was taken off midway through the second half of that game with what had initially seemed an innocuous shoulder problem, but scans showed a pectoral injury that will require him to see a surgeon on his return to Australia.
Already well-stocked in back row strength, Australia have decided against a like-for-like replacement for Palu, with coach Michael Cheika opting instead to bring in a third hooker, James Hanson, who is playing in Australia.
Sam Carter, a lock who plays in France for Bordeaux-Begles, will replace Skelton. He had missed the Wallabies’ 31-man squad due to a knee injury but is back to full fitness.
Hanson has 10 Wallabies caps. Carter, who made his debut in 2014, has 12. Cheika said he had complete faith in the duo to fill the void.
“Wycliff has been a very, very remarkable player for Australia and it’s more than likely the last game he’s played for Australia. So it’s a sad day in that regard,” Cheika said, paying tribute to the 57-times capped Palu who made his debut against England nine years ago.
“The way he came back from injury to play in this tournament has been very special for the players. He’s got a quiet but strong influence in the team and he’ll be sorely missed.
“For Will, it’s his first World Cup, so it’s a real shame because he was having a really good impact.
“But Hanson and Carter have been involved in the squad pretty much throughout. We’re pretty lucky that we've got a player like Carter who was almost a first choice not that long ago before he got injured and Hanson, who’s got plenty of experience and had a great Super Rugby season last year.”
The news of the Australian double blow comes less than 24 hours after England, who have to win Saturday’s game at Twickenham or face the prospect of an early exit from their home tournament, announced that their own number eight, Billy Vunipola, had to withdraw from the tournament with a knee injury.