Lealiifano, O'Connor return as Wallabies try out options
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Christian Lealiifano will start his first Test in three years against Argentina on Saturday while bad boy James O’Connor was recalled to the bench as Australia coach Michael Cheika experiments ahead of the World Cup.
Five changes have been made to the starting line-up and five among the replacements for the Brisbane match after the 17-35 defeat to South Africa in the opening clash of the Rugby Championship in Johannesburg last weekend.
Cheika said the reshuffle was about giving as many players as possible a chance to impress ahead of the World Cup in Japan later this year.
“I think it’s only logical that now we would use this opportunity to give everyone a chance to play footy,” he said.
“There’s that, there’s also making sure everyone’s getting rugby as well, as opposed to not getting rugby. But when it all boils down to it, the view is to go out there and perform Saturday night and win the Test match.”
Leukaemia survivor Lealiifano returns for the first time since 2016 after a stellar Super Rugby season with the Brumbies.
He replaces Bernard Foley in a new-look backline alongside Will Genia, Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale as Cheika tests combinations, with Nic White, Tom Banks and Dane Haylett-Petty missing out.
The game will be poignant for 101-Test scrumhalf Genia, who will be playing in Brisbane for the last time after announcing his retirement from the international scene after the World Cup.
Wing Koroibete returns after missing the South Africa match for the birth of his second child, while Beale is elevated to the starting fifteen, as fullback, after an impressive performance off the bench against the Springboks.
Big loosehead prop Scott Sio is the only change in the forward pack with the 55-Test veteran recovering from a hamstring injury to replace James Slipper.
Once-exiled utility back O’Connor is set to make a stunning return after signing for the Queensland Reds this month.
Wayward O’Connor was only 23 when the Wallabies tore up his contract in 2013 after he was prevented from boarding a flight from Perth to Bali for being drunk, and he has not played since.
His chequered past also includes being arrested and fined in Paris in 2017 during a cocaine bust while playing for Toulon, before a move to Sale later that year where he again found form.
“He’s come back, trained hard, he’s integrated himself well with the players,” Cheika said of O’Connor. “I think he’s merited the opportunity to get a run.”
Australia have lost just of one their last eight games against Argentina, although that defeat came on home soil last year on the Gold Coast.
They exacted some revenge in the return fixture after recording a memorable come-from-behind victory to secure a 45-34 win in Salta.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 James Slipper, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Luke Jones, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 James O’Connor.
Date: Saturday, July 27
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 19.45 (09.45 GMT; 06.45 Argentina time)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)