Rona handed dream debut against All Blacks

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Curtis Rona will continue his meteoric rise up the Australian rugby ranks on Saturday, named on the wing for the Wallabies' clash with the All Blacks.

Rona has transformed from a Super Rugby rookie into a Wallabies winger in just seven months, having made his debut for the Force against the Waratahs back in February.

But Dane Haylett-Petty's bicep injury, combined with Rona's sustained, superb form for Dave Wessels' side this season, put him well on Michael Cheika's radar.

Cheika said it was a selection he never anticipated making even a fortnight ago, but Rona's training performances had shot him up the pecking order, in the spot where he made his name in league.

"He's run there (on the wing) pretty much since we got into camp and he's looked really comfortable there and he's got excellent chat from the outside in and I've really been impressed with what he's done genuinely," he said.

"When we came into camp, I probably didn't think he'd be playing in that spot, so he's done really well."

Cheika said a call was made early on Haylett-Petty, optimistic the Force fullback will be fit for the second Test in Dunedin.

"It was decided on Monday that he wasn't back fully yet, so maybe, we're hoping next week he'll be available but we want to make sure with this injury he's had since the end of Super Rugby that we get it right before we put him out there," he said.

The Wallabies coach has been complimentary of Rona's approach at training and his abrasiveness will be seen as a blunt weapon when the Wallabies square off with the almighty All Blacks on Saturday night.

Rona's inclusion on the left wing is one of five changes to the starting XV that faced Italy.

Some of those are forced but others, once again, give this team a physical edge that was missing in June.Sean McMahon is back in the Wallabies starting XV. Photo: Getty ImagesSean McMahon getting the nod ahead of Lopeti Timani at No. 8 is the perfect example of that.

McMahon had a limited Super Rugby season with injury and is set to head to Japan at the end of the representative season but Cheika had no qualms bringing him into the starting XV."

"(McMahon's) another guy who's come back in and brought a real lot of enthusiasm and aggression into training," he said.

"He's a good man to have on your team, Sean McMahon, he loves to get stuck in and I've seen him really improve I think over the last four weeks so I'm looking forward ot seeing him get out there."

Rona's inclusion is much the same but it's the centre combination of Kurtley Beale and Samu Kerevi that gets the mouth watering.

Beale's creative spark, combined with Kerevi's consistent explosiveness, could cause serious headaches if provided with enough clean ball.

The other change is Henry Speight's inclusion on the right wing, with Sefa Naivalu still unavailable through an injury sustained in the match against the Italians in Brisbane.

There is no dream debut for Izack Rodda, with Rob Simmons preferred to the Reds young gun on the bench.

Tatafu Polota-Nau is yet to earn back the starting hooker spot so he will come from the bench, with Tom Robertson and Sekope Kepu also coming from the pine.

Nick Phipps gets the nod as Will Genia's backup ahead of Joe Powell, while Reece Hodge and Tevita Kuridrani will provide cover for the remainder of the backline.

The Wallabies take on the All Blacks on Saturday night, kicking off at 8pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Network Ten, WIN and RADIO. Buy tickets here.


IN: Sean McMahon, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Samu Kerevi, Henry Speight, Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani

OUT: Dane Haylett-Petty (bicep), Sefa Naivalu (ankle), Karmichael Hunt (ankle), Rob Horne (omitted), Toby Smith (omitted), Sam Carter (omitted), Jack Dempsey (omitted), Joe Powell (omitted), Quade Cooper (omitted), 

Wallabies team to face the All Blacks

1. Scott Sio (32 Tests)

2. Stephen Moore (120 Tests)

3. Allan Alaalatoa (11 Tests)

4. Rory Arnold (12 Tests)

5. Adam Coleman (12 Tests)

6. Ned Hanigan (3 Tests)

7. Michael Hooper (c) (68 Tests)

8. Sean McMahon (15 Tests)

9. Will Genia (78 Tests)

10. Bernard Foley (45 Tests)

11. Curtis Rona*

12. Kurtley Beale (60 Tests)

13. Samu Kerevi (8 Tests)

14. Henry Speight (12 Tests)

15. Israel Folau (55 Tests)


16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (71 Tests)

17. Tom Robertson (9 Tests)

18. Sekope Kepu (80 Tests)

19. Rob Simmons (71 Tests)

20. Lopeti Timani (7 Tests)

21. Nick Phipps (52 Tests)

22. Reece Hodge (13 Tests)

23. Tevita Kuridrani (47 Tests)