Melbourne-born Rob Leota has been chosen for his starting debut after just seven minutes of Wallabies action with returning star Sean McMahon overlooked for Saturday’s Test against Argentina in Townsville.
Leota, 24, came off the bench for a late cameo in the first win over South Africa two weeks ago. McMahon, who was restored to the squad under the easing of the Giteau Law will have to wait a little longer for his first Test since 2017 despite Dave Rennie praising his physical condition.
Leota, who can play as a lock or a backrower, made his debut for his hometown Rebels as an 18-year-old back in 2016 and has played 38 times for them.
He was a member of the Junior Wallabies squad that year and was added to the Wallabies training squad earlier this year.
“It’s a really proud moment for Rob and his family to earn his first start in Wallaby gold and we’re all rapt for him,” Rennie said on Thursday.
“He’s really impressed us with his work ethic on and off the field and worked hard for this opportunity.”
Rennie said of McMahon: “He’s fit enough, it’s around the detail. And we’re keen to reward Rob.”
Reece Hodge was named in the No.15 jersey replacing injured Tom Banks, with Rennie opting for the Melbourne Rebels utility ahead of James O’Connor, who has made the bench after recovering from injury.
An unchanged front row sees Queenslander James Slipper play his 109th Test alongside club teammate Folau Fainga’a and Taniela Tupou, who was superb in the win over the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium.
Izack Rodda continues his successful return to the Test arena alongside Matt Philip in the second row.
Leota will be joined in the backrow by skipper Michael Hooper at openside flanker and Rob Valetini at No.8.
Nic White will again partner Quade Cooper in the halves, with Len Ikitau and Samu Kerevi again paired in the midfield.
Hodge’s first start for the season is the only change to the back three, with Marika Koroibete on the left wing and Andrew Kellaway on the right.
The reserve front row sees Queensland-raised Feleti Kaitu’u earn his third cap as the replacement hooker alongside finishing props Tom Robertson and Angus Bell.
Darcy Swain will be the replacement lock with his Brumbies teammate Pete Samu winning the nod ahead of McMahon as the backrow cover after some impressive displays.
Lachlan Swinton, who was sin binned against the Springboks, has come out of the squad altogether and Rennie said work was being done on his tackling style.
Queensland’s Tate McDermott, O’Connor and Jordan Petaia are the backline coverrounds out the game day 23.
Hodge’s selection for Saturday’s match against Argentina is sure to revive memories of last year’s Rugby Championship, where Hodge was Australia’s goal kicker. Twice he failed to land late penalties to win drawn games against Argentina, having also done so against the All Blacks.
With Cooper established as the Wallabies kicker, Hodge should be spared a similar fate this weekend, as long as Cooper stays on the park.
Hodge took over at fullback when Banks suffered a fractured forearm against South Africa on Saturday and played 50 minutes, kicking well but showing some signs of instability under the high ball.
His versatility has helped him past 50 Test caps but he admitted recently he would have liked to have made a place his own.
Hodge came back from an injury this season to play on the wing against France as a replacement when Filipo Daugunu broke his arm.
He was considered a chance to replace Noah Lolesio at No.10 before Quade Cooper returned in stunning fashion in the first Test against the All Blacks.
With Banks out for at least six weeks, Hodge can lay claim to the No.15 for an extended run through the northern hemisphere tour with an outstanding performance on Saturday.
He recently was asked about his failure to secure a regular starting spot and where that might be.
“I don’t know. It’s a question I’m constantly asked and don’t know how to answer it to be honest,” Hodge said.
“I’m happy to fill that utility role … (but) whether that’s 10, 15, anywhere really, you want to be playing as many minutes as possible for your country,” he said.
“Hopefully I can just make the most of any minutes I’ve got over the last few games and just keep pushing for that starting team.”
Rennie has rewarded Hodge for his efforts.
“He fills holes all over the place and maybe that’s his frustration,” he said recently. “He’s Mr Fixit and he’s played just about every position outside of 10 this year. I know he’s keen to pin down a spot and he’s certainly applying pressure.”
1. James Slipper (108 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (19 Tests)
3. Taniela Tupou (33 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (28 Tests)
5. Matt Philip (17 Tests)
6. Rob Leota (1 Test)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (113 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (12 Tests)
9. Nic White (41 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (72 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (41 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (36 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (7 Tests)
14. Andrew Kellaway (7 Tests)
15. Reece Hodge (51 Tests)
16. Feleti Kaitu’u (2 Tests)
17. Angus Bell (10 Tests)
18. Tom Robertson (25 Tests)
19. Darcy Swain (7 Tests)
20. Pete Samu (13 Tests)
21. Tate McDermott (10 Tests)
22. James O’Connor (55 Tests)
23. Jordan Petaia (12 Tests)