Rising star earns Wallabies run-on debut
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Flank Rob Leota will make his run-on debut as Australia look to inflict more pain on Argentina in Townsville on Saturday, while Reece Hodge won the race to replace an injured Tom Banks at fullback.
They were the only changes to the starting side Thursday for the Rugby Championship fifth-round clash in north Queensland, with coach Dave Rennie keen to build on consecutive upsets of world champions South Africa.
Melbourne Rebels’ rising star Leota gets his chance in only his second Test, joined in the back row by skipper Michael Hooper at openside flank and Rob Valetini at No.8.
“He’s really impressed us with his work ethic on and off the field and worked hard for this opportunity,” said Rennie of the 24-year-old Leota. “Big man and ball-carrier, he has been close to selection in the past.”
Hodge comes in for Banks, who has been ruled out for up to 10 weeks with a fractured arm suffered in the team’s 30-17 win over the Springboks last weekend.
A fit-again James O’Connor was an option but Rennie instead went for the versatile Rebels star, despite Hodge struggling under the high ball when he came off the bench last week.
“Hodgey put down a couple of high balls last weekend but he was otherwise excellent,” said Rennie.
O’Connor made the matchday 23 and will see his first action since May, when a groin injury sidelined him after he had made the flyhalf role his own. That position has now been taken by Quade Cooper.
“We were pretty keen to keep it as constant as we could,” Rennie added of the selections. “We’re determined to build on the past couple of performances on Saturday night.”
In an otherwise unchanged backline, scrumhalf Nic White kept Tate McDermott out of the side and will partner Cooper, with the impressive Len Ikitau alongside Samu Kerevi in midfield.
Hodge will roam the backline with last week’s two-try hero Marika Koroibete on the left wing and Andrew Kellaway on the right.
Among the forwards, James Slipper plays his 109th Test in the front row alongside Folau Fainga’a and powerhouse Taniela Tupou, while Izack Rodda partners Matt Philip in the second row.
Argentina head into the game on the back of four straight tournament defeats, although they will take heart in earning draws against Australia twice last year.
Australia: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Rob Leota, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Tom Robertson, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 James O’Connor, 23 Jordan Petaia.
Date: Saturday, September 25
Venue: North Queensland Stadium, Townsville
Kick-off: 20.05 (10.05 GMT; 07.05 ART)
Referee: Matthew Carley (ENG)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (RSA), Nic Berry (AUS)
TMO: Brett Cronan (AUS)