One hundred and eighty-three days after he last played, David Pocock will lead the Wallabies into action against Samoa at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday.
After a chronic calf injury that has sidelined him since March 8, Pocock’s return headlines a radically overhauled Wallabies team from the last outing against New Zealand in Auckland.
With the Rugby World Cup starting on September 21, coach Michael Cheika has elected to rest several players who featured heavily in the Rugby Championship, including Nic White, Michael Hooper, Isi Naisarani, Izack Rodda, Christian Lealiifano, Samu Kerevi, Allan Alaalatoa, Reece Hodge, Rory Arnold and Kurtley Beale.
In their places will be a selection of World Cup squad members who were either lightly used in the Rugby Championships, and four players from outside the 31-man squad entirely.
Pocock has been named to start and will captain the side in a tactic that better allows Cheika to control the workload of his star flanker.
Though Pocock has been training with the side for a month, Wallabies’ medical staff are keen to ensure he does not risk damaging his calf under excessive fatigue, and will no doubt play him to a very measured period of time.
A bench spot could potentially expose Pocock to having to play longer than that set period, if a sudden spate of early injuries occurred.
The backline has undergone the most change, with Bernard Foley, Matt To’omua and Adam Ashley-Cooper making up an entirely new starting midfield, and with Dane Haylett-Petty and Tom Banks given their first starts since the Wallabies’ loss in Johannesburg in July.
Up front Jordan Uelese will get his first start for the Wallabies, and along with Pocock in the back row, Jack Dempsey will run on in the no.8 jersey.
On the bench, Brumbies rookie flanker Rob Valetini will get the chance to make a Wallabies debut after an injury-plagued few seasons.
Tatafu Polota-Nau has been named as the reserve hooker, in what could be his last Wallabies Test. The 34-year-old, who missed World Cup selection but is on-standby, has announced he will be retiring from international rugby after the World Cup.
Departing halfback Nick Phipps and Rebels forward Luke Jones, who both also missed World Cup selection, have been named on the bench.
The Wallabies return from their training camp Noumea on Thursday. Cheika is set to hold a press conference at Sydney Airport to discuss the team.
The Wallabies take on Samoa at Bankwest Stadium, Sydney on Saturday 7 September, 7.30pm AEST. Live coverage on Foxtel, Kayo Sports, Network Ten and RUGBY.om.au Radio.
Qantas Wallabies team to play Samoa at Bankwest Stadium, Sydney on Saturday 7 September, 7.30pm AEST
1. James Slipper (90 Tests)
2. Jordan Uelese (3 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (105 Tests)
4. Rob Simmons (97 Tests)
5. Adam Coleman (33 Tests)
6. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (15 Tests)
7. David Pocock (c) (77 Tests)
8. Jack Dempsey (11 Tests)
9. Will Genia (vc) (104 Tests)
10. Bernard Foley (69 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (23 Tests)
12. Matt To’omua (46 Tests)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (118 Tests)
14. Dane Haylett-Petty (32 Tests)
15. Tom Banks (5 Tests)
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (89 Tests)
17. Scott Sio (58 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (15 Tests)
19. Luke Jones (5 Tests)
20. Liam Wright (1 Test)
21. Rob Valetini*
22. Nick Phipps (71 Tests)
23. James O’Connor (47 Tests)