Petaia delivers on bold Thorn prediction, Gordon to debut and Ashley-Cooper returns in Italy

International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Few could have predicted how meteoric Jordan Petaia's 2018 rise would be but one man flagged his potential with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika well before the season began.

Reds coach Brad Thorn made the bold prediction that the little-known teenager would find his way into the Wallabies' Spring Tour and it was a prediction Cheika was all too happy to see come to fruition.

Petaia will become the youngest Australian debutant since James O'Connor in 2008 and the third-youngest ever, behind Brian Ford and O'Connor, when he runs out on the wing, ironically sharing the job on the edge with the most-capped player in the squad, Adam Ashley-Cooper.

"It’s funny - Thorny said to me way back, “This kid will be playing on the Spring Tour”," he told media in Padova.

"I probably didn’t pay much attention at the time because (I thought), "He’s a second rower what’s he know? But he’s obviously a quality judge of players because Jordan’s made all the right moves during the seasons.

"His NRC form, a lot of try-scoring, a lot of creativity and I just felt like it was the time, the time to give him an opportunity."

Petaia's not the only one who will have his first Test opportunity in Padova.

Dynamic Waratahs nine Jake Gordon will also have his chance to debut and a maiden Wallabies start, with Will Genia dropping to the bench and Nick Phipps out of the squad.

The pair are among seven changes to the 23 for the second Spring Tour clash, not quite the overhaul some might have considered with a host of last week's starters retained but certainly this is a lineup with a host of fresh blood getting the chance to show their wares.

Ashley-Cooper hasn't played a Test in more than two years but rejoined the Wallabies squad a fortnight ago in the first step towards a chance at a fourth Rugby World Cup berth.

Adam Ashley-Cooper is yet to confirm his 2019 Super Rugby deal. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Marty CambridgeHis return means Israel Folau returns to fullback for the first time since the first Bledisloe in Sydney.

Matt To'omua will finally take the main playmaking reins for the first time since his return to the Wallabies setup, pushing Bernard Foley to 12 in Italy and Kurtley Beale onto the pine.

The To'omua-Foley pairing is the only combination of the trio that hasn't really been examined since To'omua's return and this will be the first time Beale has come off the bench in a Test since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Foley last played 12 back in 2016 when Quade Cooper was starting at 10 during that Rugby Championship.

Cheika said he had long been hoping to play To'omua at 10 at some point this season, a desire the playmaker himself has been open about, but the more difficult decision was the call between Beale and Foley.

"I wanted to give them all an opportunity to play there and Beale's had his opportunity and Foley’s had his. Now To’omua will get his opportunity to play there," he said.

"It was just a question of what I decided to do - whether I went with Beale alongside him or Foley or whether we decided to go with this combo initially.

"With Beale on the bench, he’ll get his opportunity out there as well."

Tolu Latu has been left out from the side, with Folau Fainga'a and Tatafu Polota-Nau taking the rake duties, but Cheika has kept his first-choice second row in Izack Rodda and Adam Coleman.

Cheika said the decision to omit Latu was one based on a plan rather than any poor form.

"I always wanted to go on a rotation, wanted to give the two younger hookers an opportunity this time," he said.

"Obviously, we’d had a big change in that position and we’ve had three young fellas predominantly. Polota-Nau’s come and gone through Leicester, being based over here but I brought him back the first time and gave him the starts, Polota-Nau.

"This time, I’ve decided to let him finish and give the younger players the starts and give them the opportunities to compete with each other.

"I thought Tolu actually played quite well last week. So it’s Folau’s opportunity to put his claim forward for the spot and see how he goes. "

Interestingly, Cheika has also opted against giving two of his hardest workers in David Pocock and Michael Hooper a rest in the clash, starting the backrow workhorses together with Jack Dempsey for the second week in a row.

On the bench, Jermaine Ainsley, Rory Arnold and Pete Samu have all earned a recall to the 23, while youngsters Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks have been left out of the 23.

Italy named their team on Thursday local time as well, with one change from the side that beat Georgia last weekend.

The Wallabies take on Italy on Saturday November 17 in Padova, kicking off at 3pm local and Sunday 1am AEDT, LIVE on beIN Sports and SBS.

TEAM

IN: Folau Fainga’a, Jake Gordon Jordan Petaia, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Jermaine Ainsley, Rory Arnold, Pete Samu

OUT: Tolu Latu, Sefa Naivalu, Ned Hanigan, Nick Phipps, Jack Maddocks, Rob Simmons, Allan Alaalatoa

Wallabies to face Italy 

1. Scott Sio (53 Tests)

2. Folau Fainga’a (6 Tests)

3. Taniela Tupou (10 Tests)

4. Izack Rodda (15 Tests)

5. Adam Coleman (29 Tests)

6. Jack Dempsey (8 Tests)

7. Michael Hooper (c) (89 Tests)

8. David Pocock (76 Tests)

9. Jake Gordon*

10. Matt To'omua (40 Tests)

11. Jordan Petaia*

12. Bernard Foley (66 Tests)

13. Samu Kerevi (23 Tests)

14. Adam Ashley-Cooper (116 Tests)

15. Israel Folau (71 Tests)

Reserves

16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (87 Tests)

17. Jermaine Ainsley (1 Test)

18. Sekope Kepu (101 Tests)

19. Rory Arnold (19 Tests)

20. Pete Samu (7 Tests)

21. Will Genia (98 Tests)

22. Kurtley Beale (82 Tests)

23. Dane Haylett-Petty (29 Tests)