Wallabies squad members Lalakai Foketi and Matt Gibbon have backed the re-emergence of the Australia A side believing the three-week Fiji tour has prepared them for the trials of Test match rugby.
Both recalled to the Wallabies squad following standout performances in the Pacific Nations Cup, Foketi and Gibbon will be eyeing a chance to pull on the gold jersey when the squad travels to Argentina on Friday for the opening two Rugby Championship Tests.
Reignited after a 14-year absence, the Australia A side took on Samoa, Tonga and Fiji in a three match series that saw the Australians fall just short of claiming the silverware for the first time. Playing in sweltering conditions and against physical Test nations, the duo say they're ready to go if called upon in Argentina.
"Yeah [I'm prepared], I think you look at the games and who we played, it was strong and physical, and the conditions that we played in as well, so I'll be banking on those three games experience and hopefully match fitness is up there. I think I'm ready if I get the opportunity in Argentina," Foketi said from Wallabies camp on the Gold Coast.
Preparing to return to park footy following Super Rugby, Foketi believes the re-introduction of the Australia A program has bridged the gap to Test rugby, giving the next generation of players a chance to learn Wallabies structures and experience a Wallabies-like set-up in preparation for the top level.
"Yeah, 100 percent [it's not a big leap into Tests]. I think you look at who we played, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, especially that Fiji inside, I think it's a huge step up from going back to play club footy," the 27-year-old said.
"I think if you go from that competition into the Argentina series in the Championship, I think you should take a lot of confidence out of that, I definitely did playing against those sides. As you know it's a big step up [to Test rugby] but I think I'll be ready for it.
"We played the same shapes, same calls and pretty much same play sheet. It's a great platform to go from there straight into the Wallabies. I guess if it's your first training session and you didn't have Australia A under your belt with the same calls and stuff, you'd have to learn quite quickly.
"It's huge, I think going into the Australia A campaign, I didn't know what to expect, but as soon as we got over there it's the same environment as here, you're basically playing for Australia. The competition was massive and like I said the teams we played against, you just look at who's in those teams and everything, it's a great setup and it's a great competition and I think Australia A should continue."
Gibbon backed Foketi's sentiments after he found a place in the squad following an impressive season with the Melbourne Rebels.
"A lot of these boys have never been in any sort of next tier after Super Rugby and honestly it was great," the front rower said. "I think we started jelling well, the boys getting together, just playing against quality players.
"I think that first week was a little bit tough, but after that mate, I think we did bloody well to be honest and it was really good preparation for this especially I think we really follow on what the Wallabies do in that Aussie A stuff, so it's been a really good transition from that to this."
While Foketi will be determined to add to his one Test cap that he earned last year, Gibbon will be hoping to make his Test debut after he was recalled into the squad after a three-year absence from the set-up.
Named as a training squad member in 2019, Gibbon has had to deal with multiple setbacks, including a double shoulder reconstruction that kept him sidelined for some time, while he started this season at the Rebels off the bench before he found his way to the starting line-up and eventually the Australia A squad.
"I've been around the park for a while now, so I am enjoying it [being back in the squad]," the 27-year-old said. "I was in training camp with Wallabies at the end of 2019 and I've been struggling a little bit with injuries, but I've always looking to try and get it back in here and trying to really give it a crack mate.
"I had a double shoulder reconstruction start of last year so the big thing for me was just putting weight on. Last season I was a little bit apprehensive with my shoulders around tackling and all that, but I knew that I was pretty confident in my scrums, so I started to build my game around good scrummaging and then everything after that was just extra.
"I eventually started to see my carries getting better, tackling getting better and then eventually they started giving me a couple starts. I actually got dropped for two weeks and I think that gave me a bit of a kick up the arse to turn it around and go a bit hard. It is what it is, you gotta take them how they come, if you're going to get dropped, you're gonna have to go harder."