Naivalu in line for Wallabies debut

Naivalu in line for Wallabies debut

Sefa Naivalu is in line for his Wallabies debut after being named on an extended bench for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash with South Africa.

The Fijian-born winger only became eligible on Monday to represent Australia and coach Michael Cheika took the first opportunity to throw him into the mix, giving him the nod ahead of positional rival Henry Speight.

The other new faces among the reserves are hooker James Hanson, who comes in for Tatafu Polota-Nau (arm), and lock Kane Douglas, who replaces the omitted Rory Arnold.

Blindside flanker Scott Fardy is also on the bench, but it’s expected he will be sacrificed with Cheika tipped to go for a 5-3 split of forwards and backs to make room for Naivalu, one of the fastest men in Australian rugby.

Rookie prop Tom Robertson’s strong Test debut against Argentina has ensured he will retain his spot in the team despite Allan Alaalatoa returning to full fitness after a medial ligament strain.

The Wallabies will finalise their bench on Friday at midday (local time).

Cheika has made only one change to his starting team – the previously announced elevation of Sean McMahon to No.8 for the injured David Pocock (broken hand).

The 22-year-old workhorse also filled in for Pocock when he suffered a fractured eye socket during June’s three-Test series against England.

Cheika said McMahon’s improved lineout play and strong ball-carrying ability made him a clear choice over Lopeti Timani, believing he would be perfectly suited to the tough high-altitude conditions at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld.

“It’s nice for us to be able to add a strong ball carrier into the back row,” Cheika said.

“He’s maybe not as tall as your traditional eight, but he’s starting to get some of the qualities that a traditional eight has – ball carries, a strong tackle, which Poey’s got as well.”

Pocock is taking a break from rugby in 2017, meaning his regular position at the back of the scrum is up for grabs.

Cheika said the likes of Timani and Ben McCalman were also in the mix but declared McMahon had the inside running.

“At the moment, he’s playing in the Test so he’s going to be the frontrunner,” he said.

Wallabies: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon, Dean Mumm, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Res: James Hanson, James Slipper, Tom Robertson, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, Lopeti Timani, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Sefa Naivalu (one to be omitted).

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