Tri-Nations champions Australia could be without a number of key men when the inaugural Rugby Championship gets underway next month.
The new competition will see Argentina aim to upset to the sports betting odds when they join southern hemisphere heavyweights New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in a revamped Tri-Nations tournament.
The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the curtain-raiser in Sydney on August 18, with the Springboks taking on the Pumas in Cape Town later that same day.
Australia warmed up for the Rugby Championship with a 3-0 series whitewash of Six Nations champions Wales and are expected to push world champions New Zealand all the way.
Those chances would diminish, however, should captain David Pocock and utility backs Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor miss the start of the tournament.
Pocock and Beale have been ruled out of the rest of the Super Rugby season and face a fitness race to make the Sydney clash.
Openside flanker Pocock is nursing a groin injury which will rule him out of action for several weeks, while Beale, who has played at full-back and fly-half this season, picked up a rib injury in the Rebels’ defeat to the Reds last week and will be out for up to six weeks.
Australia were without Beale in three of their four internationals in June so are no strangers to going into battle without the star back.
Nevertheless, his absence would be keenly felt against the Kiwis, who have posted some impressive live scores against their Antipodean rivals in recent years.
Beale Tweeted: “Shattered I can’t be in SA with the boys. Got to remain positive and get body right.”
Another of Australia’s talented young backs, O’Connor, will also miss the Rebels’ last two matches in South Africa because of a hamstring injury. He could join Pocock and Beale on the sidelines in the Rugby Championship opener next month.