BACKLINE utility Reece Hodge has been cast into the hot seat as a Wallabies five-eighth for the first time with top playmaker Bernard Foley sidelined with illness for Saturday's Test against Japan in Yokohama.
As is so often the case when experimental back-up plans are in place in football, they are the first to be tested by injury or unforeseen circumstances.
Such is the case at No.10 where coach Michael Cheika clearly made the decision to move on from 70-Test specialist Quade Cooper by omitting him from this tour to develop alternative back-ups for Foley.
The double whammy of losing Foley to a virus and likely fullback Karmichael Hunt to a neck injury, lingering from a tackle he made at Tuesday's training session in Sydney, has forced Cheika to juggle with both hands.
Kurtley Beale is the top back-up for Foley on tour but he has been required to shuffle from inside centre to his second home at fullback to cover Hunt's absence.
Hodge comes in at No.10 for Foley and will likely take over as goalkicker as well after his two pure shots for key penalty goals helped sink the All Blacks in Brisbane last month.
Hodge, 23, has already started at wing and centre in his 20-Test run since debuting last year.
This step up at No.10 will be another test of all-purpose skills rated so highly by Cheika and, more importantly, backline coach Steve Larkham, a World Cup-winning five-eighth.
Hodge played at No.10 for the Melbourne Rebels early last year and filled in there again during some Super Rugby games this year. As importantly, he trains regularly as five-eighth with the Wallabies, often against the Wallabies in fully opposed training sessions.
Foley cut a quiet figure in windjacket on the sidelines at today's team training in the sun at Nissan Field, in the shadow of the Yokohama International Stadium, the 72,000-seat arena where the side will face the Brave Blossoms on Saturday afternoon.
Hunt's neck stiffness is short term and was aggravated by the nine-hour overnight flight to Tokyo on Tuesday evening.
Halfback Will Genia (calf) will also miss the Test after picking up the niggle against the All Blacks. Giving Nick Phipps a start will sharpen him further at No.9.
Phipps and Hodge in the halves is a new combination and how it affects the rhythm of the attack will be a key issue.
Lock Matt Philip is set for a meteoric rise to Test debutant with his selection on the bench.
His outstanding form for the Western Force earned him tour selection and Lukhan Tui's hamstring injury has kept him off the bench.
Backrow reserve Ben McCalman is set to earn his 50th cap more than a year since he last ran out in a Wallabies jersey after a strong-running display against the Barbarians last weekend.
* The Australia-Japan clash will be screened live on FOX SPORTS.
1. Scott Sio (39 Tests)
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (78 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (87 Tests)
4. Rob Simmons (78 Tests)
5. Adam Coleman (18 Tests)
6. Ned Hanigan (9 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (75 Tests)
8. Sean McMahon (22 Tests)
9. Nick Phipps (vc) (58 Tests)
10. Reece Hodge (20 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (4 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (14 Tests)
13. Tevita Kuridrani (54 Tests)
14. Henry Speight (17 Tests)
15. Kurtley Beale (vc) (67 Tests)
16. Stephen Moore (125 Tests)
17. Tom Robertson (15 Tests)
18. Allan Alaalatoa (19 Tests)
19. Matt Philip*
20. Ben McCalman (49 Tests)
21. Lopeti Timani (9 Tests)
22. Joe Powell (2 Tests)
23. Curtis Rona (2 Tests)
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