Tom Wright has been preferred to Jordan Petaia at No.15 for the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship Test opener against Argentina on Sunday AEST while Dave Rennie has pulled a move so far unseen in his 23 previous Tests in charge.
Rennie, bracing for a physical assault from Michael Cheika’s Argentina, has opted for a 6-2 bench split for the first time as Wallabies coach, leaving Reece Hodge and Jake Gordon as the only backline options to enter the fray.
That appears a risky move at any time but considering the number of injuries suffered by Australia’s backs already this year – Samu Kerevi the latest victim earlier this week – Rennie will be walking a high wire in Mendoza.
Rennie will hold a media conference at 8.30am AEST on Friday to discuss his selections.
As reported earlier in the week, Jed Holloway will make his Wallabies debut at No.6 while Melbourne prop Matt Gibbon is on the verge of a fairytale debut backing up James Slipper.
Gordon was the No.9 bench option behind Nic White for the first two Tests against England but Tate McDermott, who has had some minutes as a winger when required during Super Rugby, played in the decider.
Wright steps into a problematic position for Rennie having spent some time there in the Brisbane Test after the concussion suffered by Petaia, who was ruled out of game three, where Hodge wore the No.15 jersey. Tom Banks broke his arm in the Perth game while Andrew Kellaway was injured in training and is still sidelined.
“If that opportunity arises again, I’ll definitely take it with both hands,” Wright said this week when asked about the prospect of being named as No.15.
Holloway has been close to selection and would have played against England but for a calf injury.
The Waratahs flanker will add extra height in the lineout along with Darcy Swain who returns after suspension, and Matt Philip as the locks. Rory Arnold, called up as one of three allowed overseas picks, misses out after a slight calf strain, with Nick Frost on the bench.
Former Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch is the special guest with Roar experts Brett McKay and Harry Jones as they preview the Wallabies’ TRC campaign. Listen here or find us on your podcast app of choice.
Quade Cooper returns after missing the entire England series with a calf strain to guide the team from No.10 with Hunter Paisami, as expected, alongside Len Ikitau at inside centre.
Hodge is well regarded by Rennie for his versatility and can play anywhere where from flyhalf out in a pinch.
Gibbon was called up after an impressive performance in the Australia A games in Fiji and following injuries to Angus Bell and Scott Sio in the England series.
Gibbon was involved in a Wallabies camp ahead of the 2019 World Cup and has subsequently undergone a shoulder reconstruction.
The 6-2 bench split means there is no spot for Reds stars James O’Connor and Suli Vunivalu, who made his debut in the dying embers of the Ella-Mobbs Cup decider, while Jock Campbell also must bide his time.
“We’ve had a strong week of preparation over here in Argentina and we are highly motivated to put on a performance that makes our supporters proud back home in Australia,” said Rennie in a statement from RA.
“It’s an extremely special occasion for Jed, Matt and their families and it’s up to the rest of us to make sure it’s a positive memory on their Test debuts.
“Argentina will be full of confidence after their home series win over Scotland and we know we’ll need to be at our best to get a good result on Saturday afternoon.”
Meanwhile Argentina’s coach Michael Cheika made nine changes to the starting team that scored a dramatic late win over Scotland to clinch their July series against Scotland.
Six changes of the changes are in the Argentina forwards where Julian Montoya returns as captain after a back injury to replace Agustin Creevy. .
Forwards Thomas Gallo, Joel Sclavi, Guido Petti, Santiago Grondona and Facundo Isa missed out on starting spots to Manuel Tetaz Chaparro, Francisco Gomez, Matias Alemanno, Juan Martin Gonzalez Samso and Marcos Kremer.
In the backs, Tomas Cubelli replaces Lautaro Bazan Velez, at No.9Jeronimo de la Fuente is in at 12 for Matias Moroni and Santiago Cordero is named at 14 wing instead of Bautista Delguy.
Wallabies team to play Argentina at the Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza, Sunday, 5.10am AEST
1. James Slipper (117 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (28 Tests)
3. Allan Alaalatoa (55 Tests)
4. Darcy Swain (11 Tests)
5. Matt Philip (23 Tests)
6. Jed Holloway*
7. Michael Hooper (c) (121 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (21 Tests)
9. Nic White (50 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (75 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (45 Tests)
12. Hunter Paisami (17 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (15 Tests)
14. Jordan Petaia (18 Tests)
15. Tom Wright (12 Tests)
16. Lachlan Lonergan (4 Tests)
17. Matt Gibbon*
18. Taniela Tupou (40 Tests)
19. Nick Frost (2 Tests)
20. Rob Leota (9 Tests)
21. Pete Samu (22 Tests)
22. Jake Gordon (12 Tests)
23. Reece Hodge (55 Tests)
Argentina (1-15): 1 Nahuel T. Chaparro, 2 Julian Montoya (c), 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4 Matias Alemanno, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 7 Marcos Kremer, 8 Pablo Matera, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 13 Matias Orlando,, 14 Santiago Cordero, 15 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Reserves: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayvo Vivas, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni.