The Waratahs, Reds, Force and Brumbies have all announced their teams for Round 1 of the 2021 Super Rugby AU season.
It might only be the first batch of team announcements of the year, but already there are some eye-catching decisions made by the coaches.
Wallaby Scott Sio hasn’t been picked in the Brumbies’ entire matchday squad as they start their title defence with a trip to Perth to face the Force, while Reds coach Brad Thorn has moved Jordan Petaia away from his favoured position at outside centre and onto the wing for their season opener against the Waratahs, and left Taniela Tupou out of the starting side altogether.
Tim Sampson has decided to go with club captain Ian Prior at scrumhalf instead of Argentinian star Tomas Cubelli, who’s been named on the bench, and the Waratahs will call on former Red Izaia Perese in midfield for their clash in Queensland.
Perese will line up alongside Joey Walton in midfield for NSW, with James Ramm and Alex Newsome on the wings, Jack Maddocks at fullback and Jake Gordon and Will Harrison in the halves.
Rob Penney has been able to name a first-choice front row of Angus Bell, Tom Horton and Harry Johnson-Holmes, and new signings Sam Caird and Jack Whetton will make their club debuts in the second row together.
In the back row, Carlo Tizzano has been given first crack at replacing Michael Hooper at openside. He combines with Jack Dempsey and Will Harris in the back row, the latter of whom will wear the number six in Lachie Swinton’s absence.
Swinton isn’t the only Wallaby missing from the game due to suspension; Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is also unavailable on account of his red card picked up in Australia’s final game of the year against Argentina. New signing Suliasi Vunivalu is also suspended, while Test players Liam Wright and Brandon Paenga-Amosa are injured.
With Paenga-Amosa unavailable and Tupou on the bench, Thorn has gone with an inexperienced front row of Dane Zander, Alex Mafi and Feao Fotuaika. Seru Uru comes into partner Angus Blyth at lock, while Angus Scott-Young, as expected, takes Wright’s place in the back row alongside Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson.
James O’Connor will captain the Reds from flyhalf in Wright’s absence, with Tate McDermott at scrumhalf and Hamish Stewart and Hunter Paisami in midfield. Filipo Daugunu, Petaia and Jock Campbell make up a strong back three.
In the second game of the round, the Western Force will run out most of their new signings: Tom Robertson and Santiago Medrano start on either side of Feleti Kaitu’u in an imposing front row, while Medrano’s fellow Argentinian, Tomas Lezana, will wear the number six.
Tevita Kuridrani takes his preferred spot at outside centre with Kyle Godwin inside him, and Irish veteran Rob Kearney starts at fullback.
There are still plenty of familiar names in the Force’s side, with Jeremy Thrush, Fergus Lee Warner, Brynard Stander, Prior, Jono Lance, Marcel Brache and Byron Ralston named to start after backing up from last year’s campaign.
Their opponents, the Brumbies, have gone with a fairly full-strength side, with Sio’s omission the only real shock. Len Ikitau gets first crack at the 13 jersey vacated by Kuridrani, and Jahrome Brown will start at openside flanker.
Mack Hansen starts on the wing in place of the injured Tom Wright, and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa has been named as the utility back despite being a scrumhalf by trade.
James Slipper starts alongside Folau Fainga’a and captain Allan Alaalatoa in an all-Wallabies front row, with Darcy Swain and Cadeyrn Neville locking the scrum behind them. Rob Valetini and Pete Samu join Brown in the back row.
Andy Muirhead has been named opposite Hansen out wide, Tom Banks will wear the 15 jersey, and Irae Simone joins Ikitau in midfield. Wallabies Nic White and Noah Lolesio are the halves.
Suncorp Stadium, Friday, 7:45pm (AEDT)
(1-15): Dane Zander, Alex Mafi, Feao Fotuaika, Angus Blyth, Seru Uru, Angus Scott-Young, Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor (c), Filipo Daugunu, Hamish Stewart, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Jock Campbell
Bench: Richie Asiata, Harry Hoopert, Taniela Tupou, Ryan Smith, Tuania Tali Taualima, Moses Sorovi, Bryce Hegarty, Ilaisa Droasese
Angus Bell, Tom Horton, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Sam Caird, Jack Whetton, Will Harris, Carlo Tizzano, Jack Dempsey, Jake Gordon (c), Will Harrison, James Ramm, Joey Walton, Izaia Perese, Alex Newsome, Jack Maddocks
Bench: Dave Porecki, Tetera Faulkner, Sio Tatola, Jeremy Williams, Hugh Sinclair, Jack Grant, Tane Edmed, Mark Nawaqanitawase
HBF Park, Friday, 9:55pm (AEDT)
Tom Robertson, Feleti Kaitu’u, Santiago Medrano, Jeremy Thrush, Fergus Lee Warner, Tomas Lezana, Kane Koteka, Brynard Stander, Ian Prior, Jono Lance, Marcel Brache, Kyle Godwin, Tevita Kuridrani, Byron Ralston, Rob Kearney
Bench: Andrew Ready, Angus Warner, Greg Holmes, Ryan McCauley, Tim Anstee, Tomas Cubelli, Jake McIntyre, Richard Kahui
James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Darcy Swain, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Valetini, Jahrome Brown, Pete Samu, Nic White, Noah Lolesio, Mack Hansen, Irae Simone, Len Ikitau, Andy Muirhead, Tom Banks
Bench: Connal McInerney, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Tom Cusack, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa