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Wallaby coach Michael Cheika hasn’t played Russian roulette with his career as anticipated against Italy, in fact he’s shown a mixture of vision and ‘what the hell’.
The vision stands out with picking some new blood including outstanding Queensland teenager Jordan Petaia and Waratahs halfback Jake Gordon to debut in the starting lineup, and showing the long overdue door to Nick Phipps, Ned Hanigan and Tolu Latu.
Petaia promises to be very special. He’s very quick and very switched on for someone not long out of school as he’s proved with the Reds.
By Sunday 1am AEST, Petaia will be 18 years and 249 days, the third youngest Wallaby after Brian Ford at 18 years and 90 days, and James O’Connor 18 years and 126 days.
At 190cms and 98kgs he takes some stopping. For those naysayers who will reckon he’s too young, I say if he’s good enough he’s old enough – and he’s bloody good.
He was originally selected to get the feel of international rugby from outside the fence on this tour, but to Cheika’s credit Petaia has been fast-tracked to wear the 11 jersey at the weekend in Padua.
Gordon was the better Waratahs halfback last Super Rugby season, but coach Daryl Gibson in the main stuck by Phipps. No doubt that will change next season – and deservedly so.
The change in vision will be Israel Folau returning to fullback, a position he should never have left.
Watch him turn in a blinder to celebrate.
The ‘what the hell’ selection is Adam Ashley-Cooper who at 34 hasn’t played top-shelf international rugby since he was carted off in the 16th minute with concussion on 27 August 2016 against the All Blacks, and replaced by Reece Hodge on debut.
Since then he’s been playing for Bordeaux, and Kobe Steelers.
But Cheika has seen fit to slot him in on the wing en route to a fourth Rugby World Cup where he’ll be 35, and no doubt even slower.
As a result promising youngsters like Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks have been sacrificed to make room for the 116-capped veteran.
What’s the point?
So for the first time, outside centre Samu Kerevi will be the only back wearing the same number from last weeks pathetic 6-9 loss to Wales.
Gordon replaces Will Genia who has been benched, Matt Toomua’s the fly-half forcing Bernard Foley to 12, and Kurtley Beale to the bench, Petaia takes over from winger Sefa Naivalu who has been dropped, Ashley-Cooper replaces Folau on the other wing, with Folau resuming at fullback, forcing Dane Haylett-Petty to the bench.
Toomua last played fly-half five years ago, Foley inside centre two years ago, while Beale hasn’t been on the pine since the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
As a result the Wallaby backs on the bench will be the strongest in memory with Genia, Beale, and Haylett-Petty ready to pick up the slack if Italy suddenly gets its act together and starts playing like a Tier One nation.
In short, Latu, Naivalu, Hanigan, Phipps, Maddocks, lock Rob Simmons, and prop Allan Alaalatoa will be watching from the Padua stand, while Petaia, Gordon, Ashley-Cooper, prop Jermaine Ainsley, hooker Folau Fainga’a, lock Rory Arnold, and back-rower Peter Samu have been promoted.
(1) Scott Sio (53 caps)
(2) Folau Fainga’a (6)
(3) Taniela Tupou (10)
(4) Izack Rodda (15)
(5) Adam Coleman (29)
(6) Jack Dempsey (8)
(7) Michael Hooper capt (88)
(8) David Pocock (76)
(9) Jake Gordon (debut)
(10) Matt To’omua (40)
(11) Jordan Petaia (debut)
(12) Bernard Foley (66)
(13) Samu Kerevi (23)
(14) Adam Ashley-Cooper (116)
(15) Israel Folau (71)
(16) Tatafa Polota-Nau (87)
(17) Jermaine Ainsley (1)
(18) Sekope Kepu (101)
(19) Rory Arnold (19)
(20) Pete Samu (19)
(21) Will Genia (98)
(22) Kurtley Beale (82)
(23) Dane Haylett-Petty (29)