Moore back in captain's chair for Italy

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is set to see a host of new faces push their Test credentials against Italy, ringing the changes for their final June hit out.

Cheika said before the series he was open to using the majority of his squad throughout the Tests and this match is the one he has chosen for radical change, with six shifts in the starting XV for Saturday’s clash, though tor the first time this series there are no debutants to start, after the Wallabies fielded five across the opening two June Tests.

Stephen Moore's return to the starting hooker spot and the on-field captaincy headlining the reshuffle, while Lopeti Timani, Rob Horne and Sefa Naivalu will play their first Tests of the series, coming in for Scott Higginbotham, Tevita Kuridrani and Eto Nabuli, respectively.

The Wallabies have taken a cautious approach with Speight's hamstring strain, that kept him out of the Scotland game, with the luxury of a handful of options in the squad.

"We made a decision on Henry early in the week, he still had a bit of, there was some risk for him," Cheika said.

"I think considering our position with the competition in the wing spot that that wasn’t worth risking for Henry this week, especially with his hamstring because you’ve seen how good a form he’s been in when his hamstring’s been solid all year and we want to make sure that he’s right for the rest of the season as well."

Scott Sio’s minutes late in the game against Scotland were enough to prove his worth as a run-on prop, lining up alongside childhood friend Allan Alaalatoa for the first time in a Wallabies Test.

Rory Arnold has usurped his club captain Sam Carter for a spot in the second row, reuniting with Adam Coleman, after the pair became a regular duo in 2016.

Horne has not played a Test since last year’s opening Bledisloe in Sydney, and was a late call-up into the squad to replace the injured Samu Kerevi.

Lopeti Timani will play his first 2017 Test in Brisbane. Photo: WalmsleyMoore will become the 10th most capped international player, surpassing Italian Martin Castrogiovanni and England’s Jason Leonard in his 120th Test.

The hooker is 19 Tests shy of Australia’s Test record, with George Gregan’s 139 Tests still the mark to beat.

Cheika said there was no hesitation about handing the on-field captaincy back to Moore, despite his deputy Michael Hooper taking the lead for the whole 80 against Fiji and Scotland.

"I think Hooper’s done an outstanding job," he said.

"We always said from the start that Moore’s the captain of the team in the series and I think they’ve worked really well together and there’s not even a question about that. Moore comes in, he stays captain, it doesn’t mean Hooper stops leading.

"He leads from the front on most occasions as it is but he’s improved so much in the way he’s becoming a leader of men as well around the team."

That will continue because he’s a real advocate, Hooper, of what we do and I think his form represents that too.

Karmichael Hunt has seemingly cemented himself in the no. 12 spot, albeit in the absence of Kurtley Beale, getting a third consecutive start in the position after initially being in the squad as a fullback.

Australia has never lost to Italy and the Wallabies will be looking to finish their June Series on a high, after copping plenty of flak for a sub-par performance against Scotland in Sydney.

The clash is their last before August’s Bledisloe, with players heading back to their Super Rugby clubs next week for the final two home and away rounds of the competition.

Though that is the case, Cheika dismissed the suggestion that more than a handful of changes was a hindrance for his side, as he searches for his best XV to face New Zealand.

"There’s still a break between now and then. The continuity thing isn’t as relevant," he said.

"I think there was some players who deserved some opportunities to be seen in the Test match arena and there’s been some tight calls. That’s the signal that teams are looking for players who want to make those spots their own."

Cheika will name his bench for the third Test on Friday, with Lukhan Tui, Marika Koroibete, Jack Dempsey and Jake Gordon the only players in the squad who are yet to be given an opportunity to play.

The Wallabies take on Italy on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm AET LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO. Buy tickets here. 


IN: Lopeti Timani, Rob Horne, Sefa Naivalu, Rory Arnold, Scott Sio, Stephen Moore

OUT: Scott Higginbotham, Tevita Kuridrani, Eto Nabuli, Sam Carter, Tom Robertson, Tatafu Polota-Nau

Wallabies starting XV to face Italy

1. Scott Sio (31 Tests)

2. Stephen Moore (c) (119 Tests)

3. Allan Alaalatoa (11 Tests)

4. Rory Arnold (11 Tests)

5. Adam Coleman (11 Tests)

6. Ned Hanigan (2 Tests)

7. Michael Hooper (67 Tests)

8. Lopeti Timani (6 Tests)

9. Will Genia (77 Tests)

10. Bernard Foley (44 Tests)

11. Sefa Naivalu (6 Tests)

12. Karmichael Hunt (2 Tests)

13. Rob Horne (33 Tests)

14. Dane Haylett-Petty (16 Tests)

15. Israel Folau (54 Tests)