The Wallabies' preparations for next month's French series have been turned on their head with several big name players nursing injuries just weeks out from the opening Test match in Sydney, while Nic White has been ruled out of the series altogether.
While Matt To'omua, James O'Connor and Jake Gordon remain in camp to rehab and prepare for their returns, the Wallabies suffered a major blow when White was sent home after suffering an MCL injury during their training camp on the Gold Coast.
With only 12 days until the first Test in Sydney, the clock is ticking for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie to make a decision on who will take over the starting halfback position.
Read on as we break down Rennie's three options in Tate McDermott, Jake Gordon and Ryan Lonergan, and the respective skillsets they bring to the table.
Perhaps the closest player to White and his style, McDermott has taken his game to a new level in 2021 after he helped guide Queensland Reds to a Super Rugby title. After earning two caps for the Wallabies last year, the 22-year-old is likely first in line to pull on the No.9 jersey.
Happy to snipe around the ruck, McDermott's greatest strength is his running game and ability to slice through the gaps to put his side on the front foot. Averaging 32 run metres and one line-break over his last five matches, he's a player who likes to take on the defence and keep his team moving forward; it's a point of difference the Wallabies will need to use to keep the big French backrow on the back foot.
It's this asset that has him front and centre in the Wallabies coach's thinking.
"Tate's got an excellent running game and I guess that's the standout," Rennie said. "He's been working really hard on his core skills, his pass and his kicking game -- his kicking game in particular.
"He's had a big season, very confident and his communication and his ability to bark and challenge the big guys around him has really developed over the last 12 months."
McDermott's combination with James O'Connor at the Reds will likely give him a step up into the starting role -- if O'Connor finds himself fit ahead of the opening Test -- but even if his Reds halves teammate is sidelined it shouldn't rule him out of working alongside Lolesio with their youth and playing styles likely to compliment each other.
McDemott's eye for running and sniping through the gaps can sometimes come at a cost, however, as he sometimes isolates himself; his support players too far away with the ball turned over at the breakdown.
Despite entering camp with an MCL injury, Gordon is on track to make his return in the second Test and according to Rennie, "he's pushing to potentially be back in time for the first one" but the Wallabies are not rushing him on his return.
A shining light in a gloomy season for the Tahs, Gordon's return from an ankle syndesmosis in Round 7 helped lift his team in what was otherwise a horror year. While they were never able to break the duck, his leadership on the field no doubt caught Rennie's eye.
A strong leader, Gordon gave his side direction from behind the ruck and was able to give his teammates more structure. His skillset has improved immensely over the last few seasons with a stronger and more accurate kicking and passing game.
While he doesn't snipe around the ruck as much as McDermott, he's not afraid to take his chances and keep his pack rolling forward, while his ability to put his teammates in space was on display throughout the season, with the 28-year-old earning three try assists in his final five games, while also scoring two of his own. Gordon also possesses excellent acceleration and speed, evidenced by the sneaky intercept try he scored against the Blues after exploding out of the defensive line.
Perhaps Gordon's point of difference is his strength in defence. Averaging seven tackles in five games, he's been forced to be the last line of defence on several occasions this year and in doing so has made many impressive tackles and defensive efforts.
With just three Wallabies caps to his name, Gordon is the most experienced of the remaining halfbacks and perhaps has the cooler head through his many years of Super Rugby. He's shown he can guide a young side and will no doubt combine well if he's to work alongside Noah Lolesio.
The least experienced of the trio, Lonergan made his way into the squad as injury cover for Gordon and just days out from the opening match he could find himself on the bench or even starting through White's absence.
With Gordon unlikely to return for the first Test, it'll likely be between McDermott and Lonergan for the starting halfback jersey. A different player to McDermott, the 23-year-old is much more methodical and structured, preferring to look to his forward pack before sending it out wide rather than eyeing any gaps for his own carries.
In his first call up to a Wallabies camp, he's already impressed Rennie.
"He's a good player isn't he? He's played in some big moments with the Brumbies, he's got a really competent skillset.
"A smart kid and it's been really good having him in the environment; we obviously brought him in as cover for Jake initially, and obviously we're holding onto him with Whitey's injury and he's going really well."
Despite his lack of experience at Test level, Rennie won't rule out handing the young gun the starting position, but it'll likely be a trial by fire.
Coming off the bench for much of the season behind White at the Brumbies, Lonergan was impressive when given the chance to start, scoring a try and making a try assist in his last two starts, while his work alongside Lolesio could give him a slight advantage over McDermott. Lonergan is also an accurate goal-kicker, potentially giving the Wallabies another option in front of the sticks if either O'Connor, Lolesio or Reece Hodge are having off nights.
Lonergan's inexperience however is likely to mean any Test introduction comes off the bench.