Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is backing his team to prove the doubters wrong in their opening Rugby Championship Test against South Africa and feels they have the right mix to cause an Ellis Park upset.
The Wallabies covered all bases in their line-up to take on the Springboks in Saturday’s clash in Johannesburg, including debutants, redemption stories and players rewarded for Super Rugby form.
After just four wins from 13 Tests last year, the Australians need to win to try to build some momentum ahead of this year’s World Cup.
They have only won once at Ellis Park, in 1963, with the Springboks posting a record 53-8 victory in the Wallabies last clash there in 2008.
“This week we are picking the side that we think is going to go out there and represent Australia to its best ability,” Cheika said,
“We’ve got to earn everything this year – we know a lot of people aren’t giving us much of a chance this season but I believe in our players.”
The Springboks openly stated they had picked weakened side with their eye on next week’s clash with the All Blacks, while the Wallabies named a mix bag without going down the B-team route.
“It was about what we want to get from this game and to reward players from Super Rugby, while we’ve also had some injuries in the front row so we’ve had to make some changes there,” Cheika said.
Fijian-born Melbourne backrower Isi Naisarani will make his Wallabies debut after becoming eligible in April, with Cheika saying the No.8 had been “building nicely” over the past 18 months.
UK-based halfback Nic White will earn his first Wallabies cap in almost four years with regular starter Will Genia coming off the bench.
Cheika said 29-year-old White had impressed since arriving from his Exeter club to roll the dice for World Cup honours.
“White has come back and shown a lot of intensity,” the coach said.
“He’s definitely earnt his spot and to have Willy (Genia) on the bench to finish is a real plus for us.”
With three front-row injuries, rookie Waratahs prop Harry Johnson-Holmes got a call on Tuesday night while eating a steak at a Sydney pub and has been parachuted straight on to the bench.
Veteran loosehead James Slipper will make his return to Test rugby after more than two years out, which included a ban for cocaine use
Cheika said Slipper, who linked with the Brumbies this season after being dumped by the Reds, deserved a recall.
“James has been outstanding all year in Super Rugby with the Brumbies and has well and truly deserved his spot,”
Brumbies weapon Tom Banks gets his first start at fullback after an impressive Super Rugby season while Bernard Foley will wear No.10 after Christian Lealiifano was sent home mid-week with a shoulder injury.
Wallabies: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (capt), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Res: Jordan Uelese, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Will Genia, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale.