Isi Naisarani is a “tough customer” according to Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper, but the question of whether he can be a long-term Wallabies no. 8 will be closer to being answered once he finally makes his Test debut this weekend.
Naisarani, who qualified for the Wallabies via residency back in April , will make debut at no. 8 on Sunday (AEST), alongside Hooper and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the back row.
The Wallabies have in recent years often employed a dual openside structure, primarily with Hooper and David Pocock, but Naisarani has been waiting in the wings as a specialist no. 8 and coach Michael Cheika has long been a fan.
Naisarani’s line-bending abilities have caught the eye in Super Rugby and if he can transfer some of the dominance he has had domestically into the international arena, the 24-year-old will give Wallabies selectors plenty of food for thought in the back row.
Hooper has seen Naisarani plenty in Super Rugby over recent seasons and the Wallabies skipper said he was looking forward to playing alongside the bullocking Fijian.
“He is a tough, tough customer,” he said.
“He's been wanting to be in this jersey for a long time, so it's a great reward for someone who's put in a lot of years of waiting in the ranks to get an opportunity and gets a great opportunity to come here tomorrow and play in a historically, such a proud position for the Wallabies in no. 8.
“I'm excited to be playing with him as opposed to against him tomorrow.”
While it will be the first time the trio have started together in a Test, Hooper said he felt there was clarity around their approach.
“We've had quite a bit of time now to work on it,” he said.
“We've been mixing and matching a lot with e positions where we really haven't known until the last minute what the actual combinations going to be so there's been some really good communication around how we'll go about it.
“Just from the outset, good balance of mobility and some good ball carriers and guys who want to get their hands on the opposition in defence.”
While there are plenty of small elements that could be learned from this weekend’s match, there’s no doubting how much the Wallabies will want to kick off 2019 with a win.
Australia has won just 4 of its past 15 Tests and with only five matches before the World Cup, chances to create momentum will be fleeting.
Hooper said whatever the result this weekend would be the ultimate litmus test of weeks, and months, of preparation.
“It's an away game, it's a game that you get to look at what you've been doing for the last couple of weeks so it validates the stuff you've been trying,” he said.
“We do want to build momentum,and we've been committed to the way we've been trying to play at training and it's been tough to train that way against people that know your own moves.
“The good thing about getting into the game and the momentum you speak about is you get to try those against another team and it sets you up for games in the coming weeks and gives you a bit to review as well, which is nice.”
The Wallabies take on South Africa at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, on Saturday July 20, kicking off at 5:05pm local, Sunday 1:05am AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Kayo Sports.