Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has given his forward pack an almighty shake-up, dropping Scott Sio from his squad altogether and making three other changes for Saturday’s crucial second Test against England.
Cheika has also decided not to replace injured star David Pocock (fractured eye socket) with a traditional No.8, instead handing Melbourne Rebels flanker Sean McMahon a start in what shapes as the biggest challenge of his burgeoning international career.
The backline from last week’s series-opening 39-28 defeat to England has been kept entirely in tact, with Israel Folau still at fullback and Samu Kerevi at No.12 after an impressive debut.
But Cheika has swapped both of his props, sensationally axing Sio – one of Australia’s stars at last year’s World Cup – in the process.
Loosehead James Slipper will now go head-to-head with England’s Dan Cole, who has been in the gun of former Wallaby identities Bob Dwyer and Phil Kearns this week for alleged illegal scrum tactics.
Regardless of the ‘angling in’ debate, Cole certainly had the better of Sio, who was yellow carded in the second half of the Brisbane Test for repeated infringements – but to remove him from the matchday squad is a surprising decision from Cheika.
Sekope Kepu has also been promoted, with Greg Holmes on an extended bench alongside Rebels prop Toby Smith, who is capped three times at Test level.
Experienced lock Rob Simmons (lower back) has been ruled out through injury with Sam Carter to join Brumbies teammate Rory Arnold in the second row as expected, ensuring the Wallabies have some semblance of continuity at the line-out.
Five-Test fetcher McMahon, meanwhile, has never played at No.8 before – for his province or his country – and is a whopping 26kg lighter than his English counterpart Billy Vunipola.
But Cheika clearly believes his manic workrate makes him a better starting option than Ben McCalman or Wycliff Palu, both of whom are listed among the reserves.
Cheika will narrow down his bench on Friday with Palu, Liam Gill and James Horwill most in danger of dropping out.
Australia must win at AAMI Park to keep the three-Test Cook Cup series alive.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (c), James Slipper. Reserves (three to be omitted on Friday): Tatafu Polota-Nau, Toby Smith, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Nick Frisby, Christian Lealiifano, Luke Morahan.