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Taniela Tupou has muscled his way into Michael Cheika’s starting side in one of four changes to the Wallabies side to play South Africa in the Rugby Championship.
The Queensland weapon – known to his growing fan base as ‘Tongan Thor’ – has bumped Allan Alaalatoa to the bench for what will be his first Test start at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Sunday (AEST).
The hulking prop’s form in Port Elizabeth this week has proved impossible to ignore and his promotion is sure to resonate with the Springboks after his efforts in their last encounter.
Tupou, 22, was the difference-maker when he entered the fray in Brisbane, turning the scrum battle in Australia’s favour as they held on for a gutsy 23-18 win.
A mobile ball runner despite being listed at 135kg, Tupou now has the perfect platform to impress as the Wallabies seek their first win in South Africa since 2011.
“He’s done well. We want to see him in this atmosphere now,” Cheika said.
“I thought it might be a good opportunity for him in what will be a pretty difficult atmosphere I imagine and a good front row opposite for him to show what he’s got.”
The scales remain firmly tipped in the hosts’ favour, with a last-start defeat of the All Blacks instilling a new belief in Rassie Erasmus’s squad.
Australia meanwhile have slipped to an all-time low of seventh in the world rankings – and last in the Rugby Championship – after a spluttering offence and leaky defence condemning them to a rare loss to Argentina on the Gold Coast.
Late personnel changes haven’t helped arrest the slide, with captain Michael Hooper and fellow first choice loose forward David Pocock both among 11th-hour omissions earlier in the series.
Cheika has enjoyed a steadier build up to this Test in the cruisy coastal city though, with Hooper (hamstring) fit to return and join Ned Hanigan in a reworked back row.
The pair will replace Lukhan Tui (personal leave) and Pete Samu (knee), while lock Adam Coleman usurps Rory Arnold in the starting line-up.
Israel Folau has again been named on the wing while Bernard Foley remains on the bench as Cheika persists with Kurtley Beale at five-eighth and Matt Toomua as a second playmaker.
Winger Cheslin Kolbe and No.8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe will make their run-on debuts in the only two changes from the Springboks’ side that beat New Zealand.
Australia: Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (capt), Ned Hanigan, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Taniela Tupou, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Res: Folau Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Alla Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Jack Maddocks.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, André Esterhuizen, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handré Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Tendai Mtawarira. Res: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Elton Jantjies, Damian Willemse.