Captain James Horwill will return from injury and centre Tevita Kuridrani has been handed his first start as Australia look to beef up their physical presence for a Rugby Championship Test against South Africa that few people give the visitors a chance in.
Second-rower Horwill and muscular midfielder Kuridrani are among six changes to the Australian 23 following a 14-13 win over Argentina two weeks ago, new coach Ewen McKenzie’s first victory. Half the changes are in the backline, where ACT Brumbies outside centre Kuridrani is in the starting 15 for the first time and there is a new wing combination of Joe Tomane and Adam Ashley-Cooper. They replace James O’Connor, who was dropped for disciplinary reasons, and the injured Nick Cummins.
Up front, Horwill will boost a pack that struggled at times with the physicality of the Argentines and will be sternly tested by South Africa’s big, bullying forwards at Newlands tomorrow. Experienced prop Benn Robinson returns on the bench and Kuridrani’s promotion makes way among the reserves for 19-year-old backline player Chris Feauai-Sautia. Scrum-half Nic White also retains his starting place, with former skipper Will Genia again relegated to the bench.
Horwill’s recall and the selection of a bigger, stronger backline are the most telling changes for the underdog Wallabies, who identified their struggles up front and at the collision as pressing problems after three straight defeats to start the McKenzie era and the southern hemisphere championship.
“James [Horwill] has plenty of experience and we are going into a tough environment. He plays the game hard so it’s timely that he is back,” McKenzie said. “In our outside backs we’ve already been forced into changes but Tomane on one wing is pretty straight forward. He is big and powerful and has been in the squad for a long time.”
Australia’s heavy defeat to South Africa in Brisbane came from the Boks’ advantage in the scrums and at the breakdown and, to add to that, the Wallabies also go up against a poor recent record at Cape Town’s Newlands ground, where they have lost five straight games.
The Wallabies are out of the running for the title but still have the capacity, and the running game, to upset South Africa.
The Boks also have placed much of their focus on next weekend’s showdown with defending champions New Zealand in Johannesburg – a probable title decider.
Meanwhile, Aaron Cruden will return from injury to start at stand-off in one of two changes to New Zealand’s line-up for tomorrow’s Test against Argentina at Mar del Plata.
Cruden suffered a knee injury in New Zealand’s first Championships match against Australia on 17 August but now returns as a replacement for Daniel Carter, who suffered a shoulder injury in the All Blacks’ most-recent match against South Africa. Andrew Hore returns at hooker after being rested in the previous game.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Subs: Saia Fainga’a, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Chris Feauai-Sautia. New Zealand: PIsrael Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Subs: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Steven Luatua, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.