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WALLABIES TEAM: Latu starts, Foketi to debut, Daugunu and prop stars return

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18th November, 2021
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Dave Rennie has called on former forklift driver Tolu Latu to do some heavy lifting in the absence of injured skipper Michael Hooper in one of four changes to the Wallabies team to face Wales on Sunday (AEDT).

Latu, who did 18 months on a midnight to 11am shift at Flemington Markets when he was trying to break into pro rugby, will start at hooker against Wales after playing his first match for the Wallabies since the 2019 World Cup last week, receiving a call under the relaxation of the Giteau Law this year.

Rennie said he was keen to see more of Latu, who plays in France with Stade Francais.

“He had a bit of a cameo last week,” Rennie told reporters late Thursday. “He’s trained really well, he’s got his head around things.

“We think he’ll give us a bit of an edge physically, particularly with Hoops not playing, having an on-ball presence at No.2 will complement what Pete Samu can give us.”

WALES BOOSTED BY RETURNING DUO

Waratahs centre Lalakai Foketi is set for a Wallabies debut while winger Filipo Daugunu, who broke his arm minutes into the deciding Test against France, returns for Australia’s final Test of 2021.

Foketi replaces Tahs teammate Izaia Perese in the matchday 23, while Tom Wright moves to the bench to accommodate the return of Daugunu.

Rennie is also boosted by the returns of tightheads Taniela Tupou, who starts, and replacement Allan Alaalatoa, who both missed the loss to England last week due to concusssion suffered against Scotland.

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After five straight wins, Rennie’s team has suffered back to back losses against the Scots and English, but should be a strong chance of wrapping up the year with a win against a Welsh team battered by injuries and absentees.

: Lalakai Foketi poses during the Australian Wallabies player portrait session at Event Cinemas Coomera on June 23, 2021 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

: Lalakai Foketi (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Their long list of missing players includes British and Irish Lions Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Ross Moriarty, Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and George North.

Prop WillGriff John and lock Will Rowlands have been released back to their clubs after suffering head knocks, while Tomas Francis (concussion), Josh Adams (calf) and Aaron Wainwright (shoulder) remain under assessment.

Coach Wayne Pivac has used close to 40 players across Tests against New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji so far.

The Wallabies have also had to contend with similar problems, missing their three Japan based stars, and with captain Michael Hooper sidelined with a foot injury.

James Slipper will captain the team.

Hooper is replaced by Pete Samu at openside flanker with Rob Leota and no.8 Rob Valetini making up the loose forwards.

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“We’ve picked Pete for a reason,” said Rennie. “He has obviously been covering seven, so he’s more than equipped to do the job. He’s played a bit of seven in the past. He’s just got a different game.

“He does have post tackle presence, it’s not as obvious as Hoops, but he does give you an athletic edge. We’re really excited about having Pete there and we just want him to go out and play his game, not try to emulate Hoops.”

Valetini is one of just three players to be picked in every Test this year, alongside Slipper and outside centre Len Ikitau.

Rory Arnold and Izack Rodda will continue their lock partnership for a third straight Test.

Will Skelton has been named as the replacement lock for the third straight week, with Lachlan Swinton recalled as the backrow cover.

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“Rods runs our lineout, so he’s an important cog in that,” said Rennie in explaining why he kept the same approach to his locks.

“I think those guys are getting better and better, they’ve got their head around what we’re doing, certainly have presence on the field and the frustrating thing about last week was we just couldn’t hang onto the ball long enough to utilise Will to carry and give us so go-forward.”

He said he thought Skelton was more effective from the bench.

“When I was coaching over here, Saracens consistently used him off the bench,” said the former Glasgow coach. “He’d come in with 20-25 to go and have a massive impact in the game. That was always our thinking.”

Brumbies No.10 Noah Lolesio and London Irish prop Ollie Hoskins have come out of the matchday squad after brief cameos against England.

Talking on Lolesio’s demotion, Rennie said: “It’s a balance of the bench. We were keen to have a specialist midfield cover, Lalakai’s been excellent, made massive shifts and we’ve often talked about him around a position on the bench but based on what we needed to backup the starting group it hasn’t worked out for him.

“He’s been really good and gives us a genuine midfield cover, we feel Tom can cover our back three and we’ve got Kurtley who has now been with the group for a long time and we’re confident he can jump in at 10 and run the ship.

Rennie added: “It’s great to have Taniela and Allan back in the mix this week, they bring a level of experience that will be key for us against a tough Welsh team,” said Rennie.

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“Slips is hugely respected in our mob and a strong contributor to our leadership group. He was the obvious choice to lead us in the absence of Hoops.

“Lalakai has been with the squad all year and worked extremely hard to earn his first International opportunity in what’s a proud moment for him and his family.

“We’ve made some great shifts this year, but we’ve been disappointed with our performances in the last two Tests and we’ll be looking to ensure we finish the year on a positive note against Wales on Saturday night.”

Wallabies team to play Wales at Principality Stadium, Cardiff on Sunday at 4:30am AEDT.

1. James Slipper (c) (113 Tests)
2. Tolu Latu (20 Tests)
3. Taniela Tupou (37 Tests)
4. Rory Arnold (28 Tests)
5. Izack Rodda (33 Tests)
6. Rob Leota (5 Tests)
7. Pete Samu (18 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (17 Tests)
9. Nic White (46 Tests)
10. James O’Connor (60 Tests)
11. Filipo Daugunu (6 Tests)
12. Hunter Paisami (13 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (12 Tests)
14. Andrew Kellaway (12 Tests)
15. Kurtley Beale (94 Tests)
Replacements
16. Folau Fainga’a (24 Tests)
17. Angus Bell (15 Tests)
18. Allan Alaalatoa (52 Tests)
19. Will Skelton (20 Tests)
20. Lachlan Swinton (6 Tests)
21. Tate McDermott (14 Tests)
22. Lalakai Foketi*
23. Tom Wright (9 Tests)
*denotes uncapped

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