Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has announced a revamped line-up for the opening Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup clash against New Zealand at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
McKenzie said the changes were based on three key components – strong individual form since Australia’s successful series clean sweep over France; a reflection of the style of Rugby the Qantas Wallabies want to play against the All Blacks; and those forced through injury.
A series of strong and consistent performances by playmaker Kurtley Beale sees the talented 25-year-old earn his first Test starting opportunity of 2014 at flyhalf.
The irresistible provincial form of Adam Ashley-Cooper at outside centre has also been rewarded and means he will shift into the number 13 jersey for Australia.
The Qantas Wallabies will also boast a new wing partnership with Rob Horne and Pat McCabe joining fullback Israel Folau to form a strong back-three.
The two remaining changes in the starting XV see hooker Nathan Charles replace the injured Tatafu Polota-Nau and the return at lock of Sam Carter, who earned his international debut in the opening Test against France in June before an ankle injury ruled him out of the remainder of the series.
“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.”
McKenzie said the selection at flyhalf was one of the toughest to make.
“Bernard hasn’t put a foot wrong since we chose him in June, but Kurtley has really stepped up his game over the past few months and he’s consistently been one of the Waratahs best players every week,” he said.
“He’ll bring some additional x-factor to our game. We feel that will suit our two-playmaker framework and ensure we have the right balance in those positions along with Matt Toomua.
“Kurtley’s also an experienced guy who has played 42 Tests, so he will enjoy the added responsibility of wearing the number 10 jersey.
“He’s got a proven track record at the position at a provincial and Test level, and he has been involved in a number of important wins at flyhalf for Australia over the years.
“Shifting Adam from the wing to the centres has been for much the same reason – he’s been in outstanding form for the Waratahs and was a real point of difference for them at the back-end of the Super Rugby season.
“Adam’s never let Australia down no matter what position he plays and we know he’ll enjoy the move to a position where he has had a lot of experience at during his career.”
McKenzie has announced an extended nine-man bench, with one player to be omitted closer to gameday.
“I’ve always been a big advocate of ‘starters’ and ‘finishers’ and I’m confident we have guys on the bench who can come into the game and make an impact,” McKenzie said.
“A lot of tries are scored in those final 20 minutes and we’ve seen over the years just how clinical the All Blacks can be at that stage of the game. We need guys who can withstand the pressure in those moments and also create opportunities for us as well.
“We’ll consider our options as we progress throughout the week before finalising our bench later in the week.”
Meanwhile, Queensland Reds hooker Saia Fainga’a joined the Qantas Wallabies squad on Monday, replacing hooker Tolu Latu, who suffered a broken arm in club Rugby on Saturday.
Tickets for the 2014 Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship, including the opening match against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday 16 August, are on sale now via Ticketek.
Tickets for the first game against reigning Rugby World Cup holders New Zealand range from $44 to $179 (from $200 for families). All tickets for this fixture include public transport.
The Qantas Wallabies side to play New Zealand in the opening 2014 Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship clash at ANZ Stadium on Saturday 16 August is:
1. James Slipper (vc – Queensland Reds)
2. Nathan Charles (Western Force)
3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
4. Sam Carter (ACT Brumbies)
5. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
6. Scott Fardy (ACT Brumbies)
7. Michael Hooper (c – NSW Waratahs)
8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
9. Nic White (ACT Brumbies)
10. Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs)
11. Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
12. Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (vc – NSW Waratahs)
14. Pat McCabe (ACT Brumbies)
15. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
James Hanson (Queensland Reds)
Pek Cowan (Western Force)
Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies)
Will Skelton (NSW Waratahs)
Ben McCalman (Western Force)
Scott Higginbotham (Melbourne Rebels)
Nick Phipps (NSW Waratahs)
Bernard Foley (NSW Waratahs)
Tevita Kuridrani (ACT Brumbies)
*one player to be omitted