Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has overlooked a returning veteran in order to give a younger star his first start in the gold jersey.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie doesn’t think James O’Connor would have the “wheels from fullback” in his return game from injury, so has opted to ease him back into international competition from the bench against Argentina this Saturday.
Rennie also overlooked returning veteran Sean McMahon for selection, choosing instead to hand Rob Leota his first start in the gold jersey for the clash with Argentina.
Having played off the bench in every Wallabies game this Rugby Championship, Reece Hodge joins Leota in being promoted to the starting side for the meeting with the Pumas in Townsville.
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He’ll start at fullback in place of Tom Banks, who suffered a fractured arm in last week’s win over South Africa.
Despite looking shaky under the high ball in that victory, Hodge has beaten O’Connor in the race for jersey 15, but the Queensland Reds star will return to the fray via the bench.
It will be O’Connor’s first Wallabies Test since the side last faced Argentina back in December last year.
“We wanted to bring (O’Connor) in via the bench,” Rennie said.
“Hodgey put down a couple of high balls last weekend but outside of that he was great.
“He’s a guy who’s filled a lot of holes for us. He’s keen to establish himself somewhere and 15 is his favourite spot.
“There’s no doubt (O’Connor) could play 15, but he won’t give us the wheels from the back.
“Really happy with our selection of Reece.”
While McMahon impressed Rennie with his return to Wallabies camp after a four-year absence, Rennie said Leota’s work ethic and his impressive stint off the bench in the first Springboks game was hard to overlook.
“It’s a really proud moment for Rob and his family to earn his first start in Wallaby gold and we’re all rapt for him,” Rennie said.
“He’s really impressed us with his work ethic on and off the field and worked hard for this opportunity.
“(McMahon) has worked really hard; he’s got himself in good nic. He’ll continue to press for selection next week, but we were pretty keen to reward Rob.”
Lachlan Swinton drops out of the side to make way for Leota, who will join Rob Valetini and skipper Michael Hooper in the back row.
“It was crazy. I was caught off guard,” Leota admitted.
“It was a pretty unreal moment to be able to tell my family that I’m starting. It was all a big surprise and I’m keen to rip in with the lads.
“I can’t wait to share it with the boys and do our best to get the win.”
Other than the inclusions of Hodge and Leota, Rennie said he and his coaching staff were keen to keep the side as “constant” as possible.
Rennie said he expected the Argentines to play a more expressive brand of rugby than the South Africans.
“They’re a bit different,” he said.
“They’ll want to express themselves. Their forwards throw a lot more passes. They’ll counter when given the opportunity.
“They’re also very good at filling the field.”
While the Pumas are yet to taste victory this Rugby Championship, Rennie said his side was aware of the Argentines’ potential to cause an upset.
“We know the Argentines will be desperate too because they’ve had four losses and they’re a good side,” he said.
“We haven’t talked about being favourites, we’ve talked about building on what we’ve done. Being disciplined is going to be important for us.
“We’re certainly in no position to sit back and relax and be happy. We’re a long way from the team we think we can be.”
The Wallabies side to face Argentina is:
1. James Slipper (108 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (19 Tests)
3. Taniela Tupou (33 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (28 Tests)
5. Matt Philip (17 Tests)
6. Rob Leota (1 Test)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (113 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (12 Tests)
9. Nic White (41 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (72 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (41 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (36 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (7 Tests)
14. Andrew Kellaway (7 Tests)
15. Reece Hodge (51 Tests)
16. Feleti Kaitu’u (2 Tests)
17. Angus Bell (10 Tests)
18. Tom Robertson (25 Tests)
19. Darcy Swain (7 Tests)
20. Pete Samu (13 Tests)
21. Tate McDermott (10 Tests)
22. James O’Connor (55 Tests)
23. Jordan Petaia (12 Tests