An entirely new starting front row, six new faces among the starting eight, and two new backs, highlight the run on combination that will represent Australia in Friday night’s Bronze Final at the Rugby World Cup against Wales at Eden Park in Auckland.
After last Sunday’s highly physical semi-final defeat by the All Blacks, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and his fellow selectors have opted to freshen up the team for Wales, taking into account both the toll of that match and the five day turnaround, which has allowed just this morning’s training run and a captain’s run at Eden Park tomorrow in terms of on-field preparation.
The Wallabies held light recovery sessions on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, but have already had four players ruled out due to injuries sustained against the All Blacks – inside centre Pat McCabe (shoulder), lock Dan Vickerman (shoulder, leg and nose) , prop Sekope Kepu (eye) and hooker Stephen Moore (sternum).
Into their places in the starting XV come Berrick Barnes, Nathan Sharpe, James Slipper and Tatafu Polota Nau.
Barnes, Slipper and Polota Nau all appeared from the bench against the All Blacks.
Tighthead prop Ben Alexander, who has started in 10 of the 11 Tests played by Australia this year, has been given a lighter work load this week by being started off the bench, while Rocky Elsom has been omitted altogether, with Queensland Reds loose forward Scott Higginbotham starting on the side of the scrum.
Radike Samo and Ben McCalman have swapped roles from last weekend, with McCalman starting while Samo plays from the bench. McCalman replaced Samo after an hour of the semi-final defeat.
The other alteration amongst the forwards on the bench sees Queensland Reds hooker Saia Fainga’a take up the position vacated by Polota Nau’s move into the starting line-up.
The other injury-related change to the backline sees this year’s John Eales Medal winner Kurtley Beale restored at fullback after overcoming the hamstring strain that forced him to miss last weekend’s contest.
Beale’s reinstatement allows Adam Ashley-Cooper to return to the midfield, with Anthony Fainga’a moving back to the bench to sit alongside halfback Luke Burgess and centre Rob Horne as the backline substitutes.
The night will be a big one for the Western Force captain as Sharpe becomes the fifth Australian, and the 21st player in the history of the game, to achieve the distinction of playing 100 Tests.
Sharpe achieves the milestone on the same ground as did the most recent Australian centurion, George Smith, two years ago during the 2009 Bledisloe Cup Test.
All Black skipper Richard McCaw and fullback Malili Muliaina also reached the milestone at Eden Park during the Rugby World Cup.
David Campese (101 career appearances) was the second player from any country to achieve 100 Tests following on from the mercurial French centre Philippe Sella. Campese saluted three figures against Italy at Padova in the final year of his career in 1996.
World rugby’s most capped player George Gregan (139 Tests) was the next Australian to record 100 Test appearances, followed by fellow Brumbies players Stephen Larkham (102) and Smith (110).
Sharpe made his Test debut against France at Melbourne in 2002, is the most capped player in the history of Super Rugby (having surpassed Gregan’s appearance tally in that competition earlier this year); and is attending his third Rugby World Cup.
Wales was denied a place in the final by France, during an agonising 8-9 loss at Eden Park last Saturday night where they played much of the contest with 14 men after flanker and captain Sam Warburton was sent off.
Even so, the class of ’11 still has the incentive of emulating the Principality’s best ever finish at a Rugby World Cup, matching the feat of the 1987 representatives who beat Australia in the playoff for third and fourth.
Friday night’s match will be refereed by Wayne Barnes of England, who also had charge when Australia beat Wales 25-16 during the two teams’ most recent meeting in Cardiff last November.
The Wallabies team to play Wales in the Bronze Final at the Rugby World Cup, at Eden Park, Auckland on Friday (kick-off: 8.30pm NZ time, 6.30pm AEDST) is:
15. Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs)
14. James O’Connor (Western Force)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies)
12. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
9. Will Genia (Queensland Reds)
8. Ben McCalman (Western Force)
7. David Pocock (Western Force)
6. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)
4. James Horwill (Queensland Reds, captain)
3. Salesi Ma’afu (Brumbies)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
Run on Reserves:
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
20. Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs)
21. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
22. Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
Australia v Wales – Historical Notes
This is the 31st meeting between the two sides. Australia has won 19 of the previous Tests and Wales 10, with the 2006 clash at the Millennium Stadium drawn 29-29.
Australia has won the last two matches between the two teams – 33-12 in 2009 and 25-16 last year. Both wins were claimed in Cardiff. Prior to the 2009 success, the Wallabies had won just once from their previous four visits to the Welsh capital.
Wales won the inaugural match between the two sides at the Rugby World Cup, winning the third and fourth playoff 22-21 at Rotorua in 1987 to achieve its best finishing position at the tournament. The two nations have met at three tournaments since then, with Australia winning 38-3 in 1991, 24-9 in 1999 and 32-20 in 2007. All three of those games were played in Cardiff.
The most tries scored by an Australian player in a single Test against Wales is two. This has been achieved by nine different players. Chris Latham and Michael Lynagh, who both scored four tries through their careers against Wales, have the most by any Wallaby against that country.
Of the current players, Digby Ioane has three tries against Wales in Tests. This represents a third or 33.3 % of the 26-year-old’s total Test career try tally.
Flanker David Pocock has scored tries in each of Australia’s last two Tests against Wales. The tries represented the first two at Test level of Pocock’s career, and account for 50 % of the tries in his Test career to date, after he scored two in the Rugby World Cup Pool match against Russia last month.
Nathan Sharpe will appear against Wales for the ninth time in Tests. This will tie the Australian appearance record against Wales which is currently held by George Gregan.
Friday night’s match is the 41st to be played by the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup, and Australia’s second appearance in what is now known as the Bronze Final. The Wallabies have won 32 of their matches at the tournament, and lost eight. The second of those losses was sustained against Wales in the inaugural playoff at the 1987 tournament where flanker David Codey was sent off during a 21-22 defeat at Rotorua.