Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has named 13 of his 15 World Cup final starters to lock horns once more with the All Blacks in Saturday night’s Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.
Will Genia has been reunited in the halves with Bernard Foley after being recalled to start in the No.9 jumper ahead of the benched Nick Phipps despite not having played for seven months while recuperating from knee surgery.
Genia is one of three France-based veterans included in the starting side after they missed the 3-0 home series loss to England in June, joining inside centre Matt Giteau and winger Adam Ashley-Cooper.
The trio gives Cheika 282 Tests worth of backline experience, with 114-Test stalwart Ashley-Cooper set to surpass the great David Campese as Australia’s most-capped Bledisloe Cup combatant in his 29th match in the annual trans-Tasman series.
A shining light during the England series defeat, rookie Dane Haylett-Petty has retained a spot on the other wing, with vice-captain Rob Horne relegated to the bench.
Haylett-Petty’s inclusion is the only change to the World Cup final backline, in for France-based Drew Mitchell, who is working his way back to 100 per cent following hip surgery.
Cheika pulled a surprise by naming Western Force No.8 Ben McCalman at blindside flanker ahead of long-time incumbent Scott Fardy, the only World Cup final forward not to earn a start at ANZ Stadium.
“I’ve made those selections because I think they’ll add to the type of game that we’ll play on Saturday,” Cheika said.
“I don’t think it’s a straight comparison like that. Fards (Fardy) has been in the team for a fair while now and Ben’s been putting pressure on at different times and every time he steps out to play for Australia.
“You know what you’re going to get and I think that’s him as a character so we’ll be looking for him to show his character on Saturday.
“He’s earned the opportunity.”
David Pocock is back at No.8 after missing the final two Tests against England through injury and will line up alongside Michael Hooper and McCalman in the new-look back row.
Kane Douglas returns to the second row alongside Rob Simmons for his first Test start since rupturing his ACL in the World Cup final.
Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa is in line to make his debut after being named on the bench.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Dean Mumm, Scott Fardy, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne.