A second Test starting role for Dave Dennis, a move from the side to the back of the scrum for Scott Higginbotham and a return to a starting midfield position for Anthony Fainga’a, represent the only changes to the Qantas Wallabies starting side for this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney, from the line-up last presented.
Higginbotham, who started at blindside flanker during Australia’s most recent outing, when it shaded Wales 20-19 in the third and final Test of the Castrol EDGE Wales Tour at Allianz Stadium in June, takes over from the injured Wycliff Palu at No 8.
This has opened the way for Dennis, the NSW Waratahs Player of the Year, to make his fifth Test appearance as the inaugural Investec Rugby Championship kicks off in fitting style with Saturday evening’s highly anticipated showdown at ANZ Stadium.
Dennis made his debut against Scotland at Newcastle in June, and was then employed from off the bench during all three Tests against Wales.
Fainga’a, who made an impact off the bench in all three Tests against Wales, slots in for the injured Pat McCabe.
Coming off two three-day training camps, and a week’s pre-Test preparation in Sydney, the selectors: head coach Robbie Deans, coaching coordinator Tony McGahan and David Nucifora, have opted to run the same backline as that which started in the final Test against Wales aside from the injury-enforced change that has brought in Fainga’a.
This means Berrick Barnes, who was man of the match in consecutive Tests against Wales, retains the flyhalf role, working outside of halfback and newly appointed Qantas Wallabies vice-captain, Will Genia.
After making a successful return to the Test arena in the third game against Wales, and having rehabilitated a rib cartilage injury in the time since, Kurtley Beale retains his position at fullback. He will be supported by the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper and Digby Ioane in the back three.
The experienced NSW winger Drew Mitchell makes a welcome return from injury to play in his first Test since the pool phase of last year’s Rugby World Cup, taking up the bench spot vacated by Fainga’a.
Up front, the New Zealand-schooled Sitaleki Timani gets a first chance to test himself against the All Blacks in the pack. The former Auckland Grammar student is one of two Kiwi-educated Wallaby forwards, alongside the former Wesley College, New Zealand Schools and Under-21 rep Sekope Kepu.
Kepu, who has specialised at tighthead prop this year, is one of just two survivors amongst the run on group from Australia’s starting forward pack when the two teams last met, in October’s Rugby World Cup semi-final last year. He played loosehead on that occasion.
Skipper David Pocock is the other, while hooker Stephen Moore and evergreen loose forward Radike Samo are on the bench this time, having played starting roles in Auckland.
The return of Samo to the Test stage continues his remarkable career journey. Prior to the June Test window, the veteran Fijian-born No 8, who last year returned to the Test arena after a seven-year absence, had been unable to maintain a regular position in the Queensland Reds match night squad.
While the Wallabies have enjoyed continuity in selection through June’s Wales Tests, just 13 of the 22 players named today featured in the Rugby World Cup semi-final between the two teams.
Saturday night’s match marks the commencement of the new four-way competition, which has replaced the Tri Nations. It is also the next chapter of a Bledisloe Cup story now entering its 82nd year.
First presented in 1931, the trophy has been played for on an annual basis since 1982, but has not been in Australian possession since 2002 when, as the holders, the Wallabies retained the trophy following a 1-1 series result, with Australia’s win being achieved at ANZ Stadium.
Current Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was the coaching coordinator of the 2003 All Blacks side, which finally returned the trophy to New Zealand possession after it had resided in Australia for five consecutive seasons between 1998 and 2002.
The Wallabies last won a Bledisloe Cup series outright in 2001.
This year sees the first three-match series for the trophy since 1998, having been played over two or four match ties in the time since with – as occurred last year – the holder retaining the trophy if the series ended up all square.
Australia hosts the first and third matches of this year’s series, with the two teams locking horns on Saturday week in Auckland before the final game is played in Brisbane following the conclusion of The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies team to play New Zealand in The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night (kick-off: 8pm AEST) is:
15. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
13. Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
12. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)
9. Will Genia (Queensland Reds, vice-captain)
8. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
7. David Pocock (Western Force, captain)
6. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)
4. Sitaleki Timani (NSW Waratahs)
3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
16. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
20. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
21. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
22. Drew Mitchell (NSW Waratahs)