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Wallabies CONFIRMED: Gordon benched as Eddie banks on Ben Donaldson, star returns for do-or-die RWC clash

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21st September, 2023
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LYON – Carter Gordon’s axing has been confirmed. Ben Donaldson will wear the No.10 jersey for just the second time in his Test career, with fullback Andrew Kellaway set to make his World Cup debut on the biggest stage: a do-or-die Pool C match against Wales in Lyon on Sunday (Monday, 5am AEST).

Having been looked over for Donaldson for the opening two fixtures of the campaign, the pair find themselves at fly-half and fullback respectively after Gordon was dropped to the bench following two underwhelming Tests to start the World Cup campaign. The selection changes confirm The Roar’s earlier exclusive report.

With no other playmakers in the squad, Gordon, 22, has found himself on the bench.

“We just feel we needed to probably freshen the team up,” Wallabies coach Eddie Jones said regarding Gordon’s benching.

“Carter’s had an opportunity, struggled a bit against Fiji and [I] thought that he’s best to finish the game for us.”

Jones said Gordon was “disappointed” to be benched, but added that the move would ultimately benefit him in the long run.

“Well, I think with young players, you’ve got to have a feel with where they are,” Jones said.

“And sometimes you need to back ‘em and sometimes you need to pull them away a little bit, and at the moment we feel like it’s best to pull him away a little bit.

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“They all want to start, but he knows he’s got an important role in the team.”

Carter Gordon with Ben Donaldson. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

His axing comes after spilling the ball twice in contact during the Wallabies’ 22-15 loss to Fiji in Saint Etienne.

But it wasn’t just his two errors, with Gordon failing to get a hand on a Simione Kuruvoli box kick that led to Fiji’s crucial try early in the second half. He was replaced shortly after, with Donaldson shifting to the fly-half role and his Waratahs teammate Mark Nawaqanitawase moving off his wing to fullback.

That scenario was considered early in the week, but ultimately Jones has opted to return to the proven Kellaway to fill the No.15 role in one of the Wallabies’ biggest Tests in years.

“He’s a smart player, reads the game well and against Wales, particularly who are an exceptionally high kicking team, I think his composure and his ability to read the game well is going to be important,” Jones said.

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Kellaway is one of three changes to Jones’ side in their fight for survival, with his return to offer some much-needed experience and poise.

He will link up with Donaldson for the first time, with the 24-year-old Western Force playmaker to start for just the second time in a Test in the No.10 jersey.

The only other time Donaldson wore the jersey was in the Wallabies’ final Test of 2022 against Wales, where the youngster was replaced after 55 minutes and his side trailing by 21 points. The Wallabies went on to claim a stunning come-from-behind victory with Noah Lolesio running the show at fly-half.

Jones said Donaldson brought a “freshness” to the role at fly-half.

“He attacks the line well Ben,” Jones said. “When he came on in the second half, he really attacked the line well and against Wales, if we’re able to get some quick ruck ball, we’ve got Wayne Barnes who generally referees the game with quick ruck ball, we need a 10 who can attack the line.”

Tate McDermott meanwhile returns at halfback, having missed the loss because of a concussion suffered late in the first half of their 35-15 win over Georgia in Paris a week earlier.

His return sees Nic White return to the bench, with Issak Fines-Leleiwasa left out of the squad despite his sprightly cameo last weekend.

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Andrew Kellaway has been recalled at fullback. (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

The other change is in the back-row, with Rob Leota injected from the outset alongside Tom Hooper and No.8 Rob Valetini.

Leota’s inclusion sees Fraser McReight drop back to the bench, with his on-ball prowess and ability to speed the play up likely to be an important aspect against Warren Gatland’s Welsh side that heads into the contest atop the Pool C standings on 10 points – four points clear the Wallabies and Fiji.

The tight-five remains the same from the one that went down to Fiji, with regular captain Will Skelton and Taniela Tupou still sidelined. Hooker Dave Porecki keeps hold of the captaincy after leading the side for the first time last weekend.

There are subtle changes to Jones’ five forwards, three backs bench, with Matt Faessler Porecki’s deputy after Jordan Uelese was concussed last weekend.

Giant tight-head prop Pone Fa’amausili is also back after recovering from a calf injury, while White, Gordon and Suliasi Vunivalu are the three backs.

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The Wallabies are bracing for Wales to play a territory game and bank the points on offer, with sharpshooter Dan Biggar to start at fly-half for Gatland’s side.

Jones said he was absolutely confident he had made the right call to back youth at the World Cup and remained steadfast in his belief the Wallabies will beat Wales.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take some hard decisions to get the results further down the track,” Jones said.

“I’ve got no doubt we’ll win on Sunday.

“The way the team’s prepared. The way they’ve come together. I’ve got no doubt we’ll win on Sunday.

“But if we don’t, then sometimes you’ve got to do the work that allows you to be successful further down the track.”

Wallabies team to play Wales at OL Stadium, Lyon on Sunday 24 September, 9:00pm CET/5:00am Monday AEST

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1.  Angus Bell (26 Tests)

2.  David Porecki (c) (17 Tests)

3.  James Slipper (132 Tests)

4.  Nick Frost (13 Tests)

5.  Richie Arnold (7 Tests)

6.  Rob Leota (19 Tests)

7.  Tom Hooper (6 Tests)

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8.  Rob Valetini (37 Tests)

9.  Tate McDermott (27 Tests)

10.  Ben Donaldson (5 Tests)

11.  Marika Koroibete (57 Tests)

12.  Samu Kerevi (47 Tests)

13.  Jordan Petaia (30 Tests)

14.  Mark Nawaqanitawase (8 Tests)

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15.  Andrew Kellaway (24 Tests)

Finishers

16.  Matt Faessler (3 Tests)

17.  Blake Schoupp (3 Tests)

18.  Pone Fa’amausili (5 Tests)

19.  Matt Philip (30 Tests)

20.  Fraser McReight (15 Tests)

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21.  Nic White (65 Tests)

22.  Carter Gordon (7 Tests)

23.  Suliasi Vunivalu (5 Tests)

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