Tom Banks will make his first run-on start for the Wallabies in the no.15 jersey in this weekend’s Rugby Championship opener after Michael Cheika confirmed his match-day 23 to play South Africa.
With wingers Jack Maddocks and Marika Koroibete flying home earlier in the week, Banks will start at fullback alongside Rebels pair Dane Haylett-Petty and Reece Hodge on the wings.
Unlike the Springboks, Cheika has named what is largely a first-choice team, albeit with one or two surprises. The most eye-raising selection looks to be Nic White, who will start at halfback in his first Test since 2015, pushing regular no.9 Will Genia to the bench.
White hasn’t played for the Wallabies since the lead-up to the last World Cup. Having missed selection for the tournament in England, he’s since played his rugby overseas, but was recently granted a release by Exeter to return to Australian rugby for a tilt at this year’s World Cup squad.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has won the race to start in the back row alongside captain Michael Hooper and promising number 8 Isi Naisarani, who will make his long-awaited Wallabies debut.
Naiasarani had an impressive Super Rugby season for the Rebels this year, and will become the 926th Wallabies player when he runs out at Ellis Park on Saturday (Sunday morning 1am AEST). Originally from Fiji, the big number 8 only became eligible to play for Australia this year, although has been touted as a potential Wallaby for some time now.
James Slipper will play his first Test in two years, named to start alongside Brumbies teammate Folau Fainga’a. Experienced Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu rounds out the front row while, as expected, Izack Rodda and Rory Arnold will fill the second row.
There’s also no surprise to see Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi named as the side’s centre pairing, the duo clearly the form Australian players in their positions during the 2019 Super Rugby season.
Kerevi wearing the no.12 jersey means Bernard Foley is the sole designated playmaker at flyhalf, although the back three of Hodge, Haylett-Petty and Banks all offer decent kicking options to alleviate the pressure from the Waratahs no.10.
Cheika has opted for a 5-3 bench featuring a young back-up front row of Jordan Uelese, Taniela Tupou and Harry Johnson-Holmes. While Uelese and Tupou have 13 Test caps between them, Johnson-Holmes is in line for a debut, having only just joined the Wallabies squad following injuries to Scott Sio and Tom Robertson.
Rob Simmons and Jack Dempsey are the remaining reserve forwards, while Genia, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale provide the backline cover from the bench.
In addition to Maddocks and Koroibete heading back to Australia before the Test, Rob Valetini was released to play club rugby this weekend, while Christian Lealiifano and Allan Alaalatoa joined Robertson and Sio on the injured list.
1. James Slipper (86 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (7 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (103 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (17 Tests)
5. Rory Arnold (19 Tests)
6. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (11 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (91 Tests)
8. Isi Naisarani (debut)
9. Nic White (22 Tests)
10. Bernard Foley (68 Tests)
11. Reece Hodge (33 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (vc) (25 Tests)
13. Tevita Kuridrani (58 Tests)
14. Dane Haylett-Petty (30 Tests)
15. Tom Banks (3 Tests)
16. Jordan Uelese (2 Tests)
17. Harry Johnson-Holmes (debut)
18. Taniela Tupou (11 Tests)
19. Rob Simmons (94 Tests)
20. Jack Dempsey (10 Tests)
21. Will Genia (100 Tests)
22. Matt To’omua (42 Tests)
23. Kurtley Beale (83 Tests)
Australia’s match against the Springboks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg – a venue they haven’t won at since 1963 – will kick off at 1:05am (AEST) on Sunday morning, and you can follow all of the action and catch up on the highlights of the Rugby Championship opener right here at The Roar.