Waratahs backs Mark Nawaqanitawase and Ben Donaldson are set for their Test debuts after Wallabies coach Dave Rennie made 11 starting team changes for the Test against Italy on Sunday.
Nawaqanitawase has been named to start on the wing while flyhalf Donaldson will back up starting No.10 Noah Lolesio in a team led by Allan Alaalatoa, who becomes the Wallabies’ 85th captain.
Both players emerged through the Australia A tours this season and Nawaqanitawase, who was initially left off the squad for the Japan series, was particularly impressive scoring a double off the bench in game one.
“He’s had a helluva season, excellent for Australia A, both in Fiji and in Japan,” Rennie said.
“He’s a big man. Aerially outstanding, going forward and under a high ball, his ability to beat defenders. He’s made big shifts defensively, he’s got post tackle presence, kicks the ball well. Generally we’ve got a pretty small backline, so it gives us a point of difference.”
Darcy Swain, who was suspended for his cleanout on Quinn Tupaea that seriously injured the All Black in Melbourne, returns on the bench and faces a big test of his discipline having been rubbed out twice this year. He was also suspended after a red card in Perth against England
Only four of the team that started the one point loss to France will run on the park for kickoff – Nick Frost, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau and Jock Campbell.
As flagged, Jake Gordon wears the No.9 with Tate McDermott off the bench. Folau Fainga’a starts at hooker after two moments of inaccuracy tainted his performance against France. It means a spot on the bench for Lachie Lonergan.
There is also a first game on tour for Jordan Petaia off the bench with Andrew Kellaway rested.
Rennie said there were “more changes than we initially anticipated”.
“But four of the front five played in the Test last week; got three loosies in Pete Samu, Fraser [McReight] who have played a lot of footy for us this year, and Ned [Hanigan] who was very good for us in 2020. And in the backline there’s not massive change there, the same midfield, obviously Mark comes in on the wing, Noah and Jake [Gordon] who have played a bit of footy together, pairing up in the halves.”
Rennie lost Lalakai Foketi to a leg fracture last week and there are a few other bumps and bruises in the touring party.
“We’ve got quite a lot of guys who didn’t train Tuesday and some of them won’t even train today, guys like Dave Porecki and Jed Holloway, who will be excited about freshening up,” said Rennie.
“James Slipper was similar, although we weren’t going to play Slips anyway. Obviously Lalakai going home, the intention was for him to play. So yeah, we’ve jumbled things around a little bit, but still really happy with the side we’re putting out on the park.”
Alaalatoa, who is named after former Australian cricket captain Allan Border, was an obvious choice to take over with Slipper rested. Former captain Michael Hooper will also sit this out.
Rennie said Alaalatoa was a popular choice and there was no reason he couldn’t be the next long-term captain.
“For anyone that knows Allan well, he’s a hell of a man,” Rennie said.
“So it’s a very, very proud moment for him and his family. There was a lot of excitement when we named the team because obviously there are a couple of new boys but the biggest roar was for Al when he was named as skipper.
“He’s got massive respect. His attention to detail, his work ethic. He obviously captain’s the Brumbies and we’ve chosen him for that reason. He’s our best option and what happens long-term who knows, but he could definitely skipper Australia long term.”
Rennie accepted that there was a level of risk going with so many changes in his 23, but said a five-week tour with five Tests meant rotation was necessary.
“Every game is a challenge over here. We knew that. We’re playing five Tests which no one else is doing,” he said.
“You can’t churn out the same side five weeks in a row and expect to be at our best late in the tour. So we’ve got confidence in the group.
“We’ve got really good depth and when you look at the team, it’s a good side. We expect that team to front.
“They’ve prepared really well so far. We’ve got a big training day today and tidy a couple of things up tomorrow and we’re into it Saturday. “
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1. Matt Gibbon (4 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (35 Tests)
3. Allan Alaalatoa (c) (61 Tests)
4. Nick Frost (7 Tests)
5. Will Skelton (22 Tests)
6. Ned Hanigan (26 Tests)
7. Fraser McReight (8 Tests)
8. Pete Samu (30 Tests)
9. Jake Gordon (17 Tests)
10. Noah Lolesio (15 Tests)
11. Tom Wright (20 Tests)
12. Hunter Paisami (22 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (23 Tests)
14. Mark Nawaqanitawase*
15. Jock Campbell (2 Tests)
16. Lachlan Lonergan (6 Tests)
17. Tom Robertson (28 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (45 Tests)
19. Darcy Swain (16 Tests)
20. Langi Gleeson (1 Test)
21. Tate McDermott (19 Tests)
22. Ben Donaldson*
23. Jordan Petaia (22 Tests)