Michael Cheika has named his Wallabies team for the first Bledisloe Cup clash of 2018, with captain Michael Hooper to make his return from injury in the run-on side this Saturday night against New Zealand.
Hooper hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring in the third of Australia’s June Tests, but has been passed fit to lead the side out in their biggest match of the year so far.
But while Hooper is back in the team, the Wallabies have been dealt a significant injury blow ahead of the Bledisloe Cup opener. Scott Sio has been ruled out with a shoulder injury, leading to just a third run-on start in the Test arena for Waratahs prop Tom Robertson.
That means only Sekope Kepu remains from the front row Cheika picked for Australia’s June Tests, with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau returning to the side for the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.
Reece Hodge has been handed the no.13 jersey, beating out competition from Curtis Rona to start at outside centre in the injury-enforced absence of Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani.
The rest of the starting line-up is largely consistent with what Cheika used in June. Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman will lock the scrum, while Hooper will be joined in the back row by David Pocock and Lukhan Tui, who will wear the 8 and 6 jerseys respectively.
Bernard Foley and Will Genia will form their regular halves pairing, and Kurtley Beale will partner Hodge in the centres. Marika Koroibete and Dane Haylett-Petty are the two wingers, playing alongside fullback Israel Folau in what seems to be Cheika’s first-choice back three.
Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou are the reserve front-rowers, and joining the trio on the bench are Matt Toomua and Jack Maddocks. Toomua is set to make his first appearance for Australia since moving to the Leicester Tigers in 2016, while Rebels youngster Maddocks is in line for a Test debut in the no.23 jersey.
Nick Phipps, Rob Simmons and Pete Samu make up the rest of the reserves, Cheika opting for a 5-3 forwards/backs split on the bench.
1. Tom Robertson (21 Tests)
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (82 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (94 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (7 Tests)
5. Adam Coleman (23 Tests)
6. Lukhan Tui (7 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (82 Tests)
8. David Pocock (69 Tests)
9. Will Genia (90 Tests)
10. Bernard Foley (58 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (11 Tests)
12. Kurtley Beale (74 Tests)
13. Reece Hodge (27 Tests)
14. Dane Haylett-Petty (21 Tests)
15. Israel Folau (65 Tests)
16. Tolu Latu (7 Tests)
17. Allan Alaalatoa (23 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (4 Tests)
19. Rob Simmons (85 Tests)
20. Pete Samu (3 Tests)
21. Nick Phipps (64 Tests)
22. Matt Toomua (33 Tests)
23. Jack Maddocks*
Earlier today, Steve Hansen unveiled an imposing All Blacks line-up for Saturday night’s match, skipper Kieran Read returning to the side after missing the June Tests through injury.
Beauden Barrett got the nod at no.10 despite the calls for Richie Mo’unga to be given a crack there, while Jack Goodhue will earn just his second cap for New Zealand, having been named to start at outside centre.
This first Bledisloe Cup game of 2018, which also doubles as the opening Rugby Championship fixture, will kick off at 7:45pm (AEST) this Saturday at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium before Game 2 moves to Auckland the following weekend. Bledisloe 3 will be played on October 27 at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.