Izaia Perese’s comeback from being cut by the Brisbane Broncos in disgrace is almost complete with the former Queensland Reds player named in his first Wallabies Test team to face Scotland on Monday (AEDT).
While it’s in with the new for Perese, it’s in with the old as well – Rory Arnold will start alongside 2019 World Cup partner Izack Rodda at lock with Kurtley Beale, 32, launching his bid for a fourth World Cup from the bench, alongside Will Skelton who played the last of his 18 Tests five years ago.
James O’Connor will start for the first time this season with Quade Cooper missing the European leg of the tour. O’Connor will partner Nic White in the halves, and they are playing their first Tests in the United Kingdom since 2011 and 2014 respectively.
Reece Hodge’s pectoral injury suffered against Japan gives Andrew Kellaway his first Wallabies start at No.15 with Tom Wright and Jordan Petaia on the wings.
Prop Allan Alaalatoa returns to the starting side – ahead of Taniela Tupou – alongside club teammates James Slipper and Folau Fainga’a in the front row.
The loose forward trio is unchanged with Michael Hooper and Rob Leota as flankers and Rob Valetini at no.8.
The midfield remains unchanged from the one that defeated Japan a fortnight ago, with Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau at inside and outside centre.
Waratahs back Perese is in line to become Wallaby number 948.
Perese was cut by the Broncos in 2020 following a drugs incident. He went to play rugby in France and recently described the experience as hitting rock bottom.
“I thought I was going over there mentally strong,” he said when the Spring Tour team was named.
“I was physically fit, probably the fittest I’d ever been, but once I was removed from my support network – my family, friends, my daughter – I didn’t know how to deal with that loneliness, I didn’t know how to deal with that anxiety that came along with it.
“Every day I was waking up and I just felt like I was sinking and it was hard to get through a day without thinking of home.
“Over in France was pretty rock bottom.”
He was on Rennie’s radar at the start of the campaign, with the Wallabies coach ready to bring him in to play against France before Perese suffered an injury.
“He’s powerful, explosive and got a genuine point of difference,” said Rennie in announcing the team on Friday night. “He’s very quick. He’s come in, got his head around things, trained really well in Japan and we believe he’s ready to go.”
Rennie said the team had moved on “really quickly” after losing Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon despite their intitial inclusion.
“There was a big deal made out of it. We were disappointed the boys couldn’t travel but we’ve had players leave camp because their partners have had babies or we’ve had injuries and you just move on.
“I haven’t heard anyone in the group talk about the boys staying in Japan so we’ve welcomed the French connection in and they’ve contributed really well.”
Rennie said he had been impressed by Beale’s instant impact.
“Passionate, really good communicator and he looks sharp,” was Rennie’s verdict. “We sat down for an hour yesterday to go through detail. He wanted clarity on a couple of things. He sees it as a great opportunity, probably thought his Wallaby dream was over and it’s exciting for him and exciting for us.”
He said Skelton and Arnold had developed their games by playing in the northern hemisphere.
“It’s a more forward oriented game, particularly in France – very physical. They’ve been around a while and while they haven’t played massive amounts of Tests they have a huge amount of experience.
“I coached against Will when I was at Glasgow and he was at Saracens. He was a beast then and makes massive impact and we’re looking for the same thing from him.”
O’Connor, meanwhile, is pumped to get his first start of the season.
“He’s keen as, as you can imagine,” said Rennie. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in James. He’s very experienced, from a Reds point of view he had a fantastic season and brings a lot of confidence and experience.”
Wallabies team to play Scotland at 1:15am AEDT Monday
1. James Slipper (111 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (22 Tests)
3. Allan Alaalatoa (51 Tests)
4. Rory Arnold (26 Tests)
5. Izack Rodda (31 Tests)
6. Rob Leota (3 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (116 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (15 Tests)
9. Nic White (44 Tests)
10. James O’Connor (58 Tests)
11. Jordan Petaia (15 Tests)
12. Hunter Paisami (12 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (10 Tests)
14. Tom Wright (7 Tests)
15. Andrew Kellaway (10 Tests)
16. Connal McInerney (1 Test)
17. Angus Bell (13 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (36 Tests)
19. Will Skelton (18 Tests)
20. Pete Samu (16 Tests)
21. Tate McDermott (12 Tests)
22. Kurtley Beale (92 Tests)
23. Izaia Perese*