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 Gordon, 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.
“I was given an opportunity there through someone else’s misfortune. It will be good to have Jordie back in the mix of selection, and we’re only going to be better off for it as a team, but fullback is something that excites me – you get a few different looks at getting the ball in different parts of the field.”
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.
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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.
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)
Rugby – The Roar