NEW Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has rolled the dice by naming four debutants in his squad for Sunday’s Bledisloe Cup series opener against New Zealand in Wellington.
In a massive gamble for his first match in charge, Rennie has also included another six players who have made less than 10 appearances for the Wallabies in the hope that the injection of fresh faces will end Australia’s long run of losses against the All Blacks.
It has been 19 years since the Wallabies last beat the All Blacks in New Zealand and 18 years since Australia last won the Bledisloe Cup so Rennie is taking a huge risk by choosing such an inexperienced squad.
He has named three uncapped players in the starting side, all from Queensland, blindside flanker Harry Wilson, outside centre Hunter Paisami and Fijian-born winger Filipo Daugunu, plus Brumbies rookie Noah Lolesio on the bench.
“We’ve been picking these Test sides every week for about the last six months,” Rennie said.
“Harry has been a real standout. A big ball-carrier, aggressive defensively and we were keen to have him and Pete Samu on the park because they provide a point of difference.
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“They’re all there on merit. Hunter, with Jordie (Petaia) being unavailable, is an aggressive ball-carrier and really destructive defensively. We think that’s going to be important.
“You look at Noah on the bench and he hasn’t had a lot of footy but he played really well in that final. He didn’t do a lot of training in the first week or ten days with the group, post that final. But he’s slotted in really well and Filipo, I thought he was just outstanding for the Reds.
“A real handful. He can beat people in a phone box and is really aggressive defensively, great post-tackle so really good skill set. They were pretty straightforward decisions to be honest.”
The Wallaby forward pack includes two backrowers with very little international experience. Samu will earn his 10th cap after being selected at No.8 while Matt Philip will play his fourth test after getting the nod over veteran Rob Simmons to start at lock.
But the biggest surprise was the selection of Wilson on the side of the scrum as the 20-year-old normally plays at No. 8 for Queensland.
“We decided with Pete (for No. 8) with his pace, it gives us a weapon off the back of the scrums,” Rennie said.
“There’s not a lot of difference between those two spots. Harry is the type of guy who at lineout time, if we’re attacking and it’s not a seven-man, we can use him in the backs to carry. Pete’s a real gazelle around his lineout ability. Not a massive change for either of those guys.”
Capped six times but left out of last year’s World Cup squad, Tom Banks was named at fullback, while the bench has some inexperienced players as well with loose forward Rob Valetini and Jake Gordon to make just their second appearances in the gold jersey and reserve hooker Jordan Uelese his 10th.
Gordon was chosen as the reserve halfback with Nic White given the starting role.
Both are strong kickers, which is the clearest indication of Rennie’s tactics after Queensland’s running halfback Tate McDermott missed the 23.
James O’Connor was named as five-eighth and Matt Toomua at inside centre.
“We’ve talked about earning the right to play, all of those men have played really well,” Rennie said.
“Matt To’omua has played his best footy at No.12 in the last month. James has got better and better at 10.
“I’ve been really impressed with him. He understands the game inside out, he’s really clear on his role, he’s been demanding of others.
“Nic White is really experienced, obviously he’s come out of the Exeter program for the last three years. One of the strongest clubs in Europe. He’s really added in that area as well. With Hunter, Filipo on the field, we thought it was important we add a bit of experience around them.”
Captain Michael Hooper was the only Waratahs named in the starting side and will make his 100th test appearance, becoming just the 12th Wallaby to reach the milestone.
Rennie said defence rather than attack was the key to winning against New Zealand.
“The sides that have beaten them have defended really well so you can’t get away from that. We’ve put a lot of time into our defence but it’s got to be constant,” he said.
“The ability of the ABs is to score in a heartbeat, or score twice in five minutes , we are well aware of the threats there. we need to be able to apply pressure through our defence.
“The sides who have had success against them have defended really well so we’re aware that’s an important part for us.”
New Zealand named three uncapped players in their squad – but all on the bench – lock Tupou Vaa‘i, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu and winger Caleb Clarke.
As expected, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, also in charge for the first time, picked Richie Mo’unga as his playmaker and Beauden Barrett at fullback, and his brother Jordie Barrett on the right wing.
“It’s a hell of a side isn’t it and pretty predictable. The only guy that I didn’t have in there was Jordie Barrett on the wing,” Rennie said.
“I thought Anton Lienert-Brown would be at 12, maybe move (Jack) Goodhue out and have Rieko (Ioane) on the wing. But Jordie has been in such great form and they needed to find a spot for him.
“There’s not a lot of weaknesses there. As I mentioned, we’re going to have to defend really well and for long passages. We need to be really aggressive to try and force them to kick or to try and turn over some pill.
“Then it’s about the quality of our decision-making and the quality of our skillset under pressure is going to be important. We certainly want to play but we’ve got a plan. To beat a side like this we’re going to have to play really well.”
15-Tom Banks, 14-Filipo Daugunu, 13-Hunter Paisami, 12-Matt Toomua, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-James O‘Connor, 9-Nic White, 8-Harry Wilson, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Pete Samu, 5-Matt Philip, 4-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 3-Taniela Tupou, 2-Folau Fainga’a, 1-James Slipper.
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Allan Alaalatoa, 19. Rob Simmons, 20. Rob Valetini, 21. Jake Gordon, 22. Noah Lolesio, 23. Reece Hodge
15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Jordie Barrett, 13-Rieko Ioane, 12-Jack Goodhue, 11- George Bridge, 10-Richie Mo‘unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Ardie Savea, 7-Sam Cane (captain), 6-Shannon Frizell, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu, 3-Ofa Tuungafasi, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Joe Moody
Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Karl Tu‘inukuafe, 18-Nepo Laulala, 19-Tupou Vaa’i, 20-Hoskins Sotutu, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Anton Lienert-Brown, 23-Caleb Clarke