The Lions may not line up against one of Australia’s most gifted game breakers in two years time after Matt Giteau was dropped from the Wallaby squad.
One of the most gifted Australian players of this generation may be missing from the Wallaby line up when the Lions go looking for revenge in two summers’ time.
When the Lions returned home from South Africa in 2009 and talk was starting to turn to the tour Down Under in 2013, Matt Giteau was seen as a cast-iron certainty to face Britain and Ireland’s elite.
But the star play maker’s international future has now been thrown into doubt after he was left out of Australia’s matchday 22 to face South Africa this Saturday.
Giteau started last Sunday’s shock defeat to Samoa at outside-half in the absence of Quade Cooper but had been widely expected to slot back into his now more customary position of inside centre for the Tri Nations opener with the Springboks.
But the Lions’ next opponents have instead opted to keep youngster Pat McCabe in the No12 shirt, with Adam Ashley Cooper at 13.
And while his age and big-game experience would suggest that talk of the 28-year-old’s ultimate demise is premature, head coach Robbie Deans wasn’t exactly quick to suggest that Giteau would be central to his plans for the World Cup and beyond.
''We've gone for a combination which we believe will be good for us, and we also believe we have the capability within the existing group to cover all those potential permutations around No.10 and 12,'' said Deans, after he opted for a five-two forwards-to-backs split on the bench, leaving Giteau completely out in the cold.
''Matt will obviously want a role going forward. And he obviously has a role going forward. We don't know exactly what that will entail in terms of playing. That will unfold.''
Deans instead chose to focus on the impact he expects newcomer McCabe to make alongside Brumbies team-mate Ashley-Cooper in what will be just his second international appearance.
The 23-year-old has played most of his rugby on the wing this season but has been tipped as Giteau’s eventual successor in midfield thanks to his fine all-round footballing skills.
''Pat is well suited to the midfield,'' added Deans.
''He has played most of his Super Rugby on the edge, either wing or fullback. He's got speed, size, and is a good decision-maker.
''(McCabe and Ashley-Cooper) combined well, particularly defensively, and we are looking for a little bit more in terms of our attack. But a lot has to happen in front of them first.''
But while the future is looking bright for McCabe, things now appear far from rosy for Giteau.
One of Australia’s most-respected rugby journalists, Greg Growden of the Sydney Morning Herald, sees Giteau’s potential path back to first-choice selection packed with obstacles that will take some serious shifting.
Giteau heads to Toulon after the World Cup and Growden is convinced he faces an uphill battle to be the Wallabies’ main man when the Lions come calling.
''It is premature to say Giteau's international days are over because of a shortage in experience in the five-eighth and centre ranks, but it will be difficult for the 92-Test capped player to force his way back into a fully fit line-up,'' wrote Growden.
''Injuries to key attacking players will change that scenario, and that is why Giteau remains a World Cup option. However, after his unspectacular performance at five-eighth against Samoa on Sunday, he has been dropped down the pecking order, and could find himself well short of the 100-Test mark when he heads to Toulon after the World Cup.
''While Giteau has a clause with Toulon that enables him to return for the British & Irish Lions tour in 2013, he would have to enjoy a massive rise in form to return to the Wallabies' inner sanctum.''