The Wallabies have announced their squad for the opening match of the 2014 Rugby Championship, against New Zealand at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Saturday, and coach Ewen McKenzie has dropped a major bombshell in his starting line-up.
The biggest talking point is Kurtley Beale’s selection at flyhalf ahead of NSW teammate – and the Waratahs’ ice-cool Super XV final hero – Bernard Foley, who wore the Australian No.10 jumper against France.
Used off the bench against France, the ultra-versatile Beale has started seven of his 42 Tests at flyhalf but featured in the No.12 throughout an outstanding campaign for the Waratahs, and the decision to bump Foley has raised many an eyebrow.
Veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, who scored two barnstorming tries in the Waratahs’ final defeat of the Crusaders, has been selected in his preferred centre spot ahead of Tevita Kuridrani after being used on the wing in the series against France. Foley and Kuridrani have both been picked on the bench.
Pat McCabe and Rob Horne are the new wingers, with the other incumbent on the flank, Nick Cummins, taking up a deal in Japanese rugby. Brumbies sensation Harry Speight is unavailable until later in the tournament.
Fullback Israel Folau, inside centre Matt Toomua and halfback Nic White, who held off the challenge of Waratahs No.9 Nick Phipps, are the only incumbents in the Wallabies’ backline to be retained in their original positions.
In forward pack changes, Nathan Charles has earned his first Test start after injuries cut through the Wallabies’ hooker ranks, with James Hanson named on the bench. As expected, Sam Carter returns to partner Rob Simmons at lock after suffering an injury in an impressive Test debut against France. Will Skelton drops back to the bench, while former skipper James Horwill drops out of the side altogether.
“There were a number of extremely tough selection decisions, especially after the way the team performed against France, however we’re confident we’ve come up with the best squad possible to win on Saturday night,” McKenzie said.
“In the end, we’ve got a very similar group of players to those who got the job done against France. We’ve just modified some roles slightly to suit how we want to play the game.”
The Wallabies are looking to overturn a dismal recent record against the All Blacks, and in the Rugby Championship in general. Australia is winless in its last seven Tests against New Zealand, has won just two of the last 20 Tests between the trans-Tasman rivals, and has not held the Bledisloe Cup since 2002. The green-and-golds’ last win over the All Blacks in Sydney was back in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Wallabies’ surprise capture of the 2011 Tri-Nations crown is their only success in a Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship tournament in the last 12 seasons.
Wallabies squad to face All Blacks
1. James Slipper
2. Nathan Charles
3. Sekope Kepu
4. Rob Simmons
5. Sam Carter
6. Scott Fardy
7. Michael Hooper (c)
8. Wycliff Palu
9. Nic White
10. Kurtley Beale
11. Rob Horne
12. Matt Toomua
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper
14. Pat McCabe
15. Israel Folau
Reserves: James Hanson, Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, Will Skelton, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani (one to be omitted)
Australia v New Zealand – 8:05pm, Saturday 16 August, ANZ Stadium, Sydney.
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