Rennie gives Wallabies' No.10 jersey to Donaldson for Wales clash
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: After a difficult Test debut from the bench, Ben Donaldson has earnt his first start.
He will wear the No.10 jersey in the injury-hit Wallabies side to take on Wales.
Facing a selection crisis, coach Dave Rennie only had 25 available players to choose his matchday squad from Saturday’s Test in Cardiff, with lock Darcy Swain and prop Matt Gibbon the two overlooked.
Former skipper Michael Hooper became the seventh player sidelined following Australia’s 10-13 loss to world No.1 Ireland last weekend after the veteran flank developed post-match concussion symptoms.
Waratahs playmaker Donaldson made his Test debut against Italy, called in with just five minutes remaining and then required to kick a conversion after the siren to win the match.
His high-pressure kick sailed wide with the Wallabies falling to their first-ever defeat to the Azurri.
With regular flyhalf Bernard Foley unavailable as the Test falls outside the international window, Donaldson gets another chance, with Noah Lolesio relegated to the bench for the Millennium Stadium clash.
Rennie said he wanted to see what the 23-year-old had to offer ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“We all want to learn a bit more about him,” Rennie told reporters of Donaldson.
“He’s trained really well – he’s got a good skill-set, big kicker of the ball, quick – so he has ability to play flat, and he’s developing the voice and the ability to boss people around, so we’ll need to see plenty of that.”
Rennie said Donaldson’s NSW combination with starting scrumhalf Jake Gordon was a bonus, with Nic White another injury out.
Among other changes Fraser McReight has been named at No.7 in Hooper’s absence, leaving Pete Samu on the bench to cover all back-row positions.
Another Waratahs rookie, Langi Gleeson, will also have his first Test start, replacing injured No.8 Rob Valetini.
The 21-year-old made his Test debut in Australia’s one-point win over Scotland and also came off the bench in their one-point loss to Italy.
Melbourne prop Sam Talakai could win his first cap off the bench.
With no specialist inside centres fit for selection, Reece Hodge will start at 12, partnering Len Ikitau, while Tom Wright will play fullback with Jordan Petaia on the wing.
Rennie said that Wright offered a bigger voice at the back, which is something that he wants to see more of from Petaia despite rating his Ireland game as “excellent”.
“Tom Wright’s voice is massive, his work-rate off the ball,” Rennie said.
“He’s smart, got a really good understanding, so he’ll organise guys in front of him, and that’s an area where Jordy’s got to make some shifts.”
The Wallabies have lost their last three matches against Wales, who they have been pooled with for next year’s World Cup.
The Welsh are coming off a humiliating defeat to Tier Two nation Georgia while Rennie said his team had plenty on the line.
“It’s big for us. It’s big from a tour point of view as we want to finish on a high note,” he said.
“We’ve lost three in a row and even though a couple of those were pretty good performances, you’ve got to find a way to win.
“We’re without a fair bit of cattle, but we’ve got a good side on the field and we need to perform well – if we do that, we’re in with a show.”
Wallabies: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jock Campbell.
Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15.15 (15.15 GMT; 02.15 AEDT Sunday, November 27)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)