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A new captain, a new halfback, and a new second row combination highlight the Wallabies side named today for Saturday night’s Test against Argentina in The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.
Local product Nathan Sharpe fittingly takes the captaincy reins for what will be the first Test match to have been played on the Gold Coast, as Skilled Park becomes just the eighth home venue for the Wallabies, and the second to have been introduced this year following the June Test against Scotland at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle.
The 34-year-old, who guided the Emirates Western Force through its first six years as skipper, and has twice previously led the Wallabies in Tests in 2004 (versus New Zealand) and 2005 (versus Samoa), on Saturday night plays his 109th Test, but the first in his home town.
“It’s rare when you have played at this level for as long as I have to come across something totally new, but to play a Test in my home town is something I would never have imagined happening when I started,” Sharpe says.
“To have the privilege of leading Australia in the first ever Test to be played on the Gold Coast is an experience I will always treasure. But the memory is down the track. For now, it’s important we keep our focus as a team, build on what we achieved last weekend in Perth, and add to that momentum. No one else in the squad has played Argentina before but I have and they will be tough, incredibly passionate and uncompromising. You only have to look at what they have achieved to date in their tournament matches to see what a threat they will be.”
Adding to the novel flavour of the evening, Sharpe will have a new second row partner after a hamstring injury ruled out last week’s man of the match from the Perth Test Sitaleki Timani, with the big Tongan’s NSW Waratahs team-mate Kane Douglas now called on to take his maiden bow in Test rugby.
Douglas, who has been in good form in helping his Southern Districts club to its maiden final in the NSW Shute Shield competition this weekend, will become the 863rd player to have represented Australia in a game recognised by the Australian Rugby Union as a Test match.
In doing so, he is the 10th new player to have received that recognition across the eight Test matches played this year.
With Will Genia last weekend having become the third Wallaby captain for the year to have been sidelined by injury, Melbourne Rebels halfback Nick Phipps steps up for what will be his fifth Test appearance, but just his second starting role.
First introduced to the Wallabies on the 2010 Spring Tour, Phipps made his Test debut a year later against Samoa, but had featured just three times prior to replacing Genia at the back end of last week’s gripping 26-19 win over South Africa which retained for Australia the Mandela Challenge Plate.
The absence of Genia, and the pre-scheduled shoulder operation which removed Brumbies halfback Nic White from the squad late last month, sees the nuggety Emirates Western Force halfback Brett Sheehan return after a three-year absence from the Wallabies.
Capped on three occasions after making his debut against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2006, Sheehan last appeared in the Australian jersey during the 18-11 win over a star-studded Barbarians line-up which book-ended the 2008 Spring Tour.
Remarkably, all three of the soon to be 33-year-old’s previous Test appearances have come on South African soil.
Should he receive field time on home turf this weekend, it would come as an early birthday present, as that milestone ticks over the following day.
Recently re-signed by the Force, Sheehan was called in last week to train with the Wallabies while the squad was in Perth, with the call-up proving timely once Genia was put out of action.
“I guess it’s an unusual circumstance for a call up but you’ve got to be ready when it comes and ‘Sheeno’ is,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says.
“He’s worked hard this year, played some good rugby for the Force, and is well suited to the physical challenge that Argentina brings. Brett and Nick are different types of players. Having them both involved gives us variety in terms of ways that we can play the game. “
New faces aside, a further change to the Wallabies run on XV sees Berrick Barnes move from inside centre to fullback, to accommodate the return of regular inside centre Pat McCabe.
The hard-running Brumbies midfielder completed 30 minutes of club play in the Canberra Grand Final last weekend to fit him for this assignment after being forced to watch the opening three Tests of The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship due to a stress fracture in his foot.
Although he is better known as a flyhalf or inside centre, Barnes has experience playing from the back for Sydney University, with the positional switch allowing the team to retain his accurate goal-kicking, which has benefitted the Wallabies to the tune of 25 goals from 29 attempts (@ 86%) through the season to date.
Kurtley Beale, who started from the position against the Springboks, moves to the bench where his versatility offers maximum game-breaking impact.
At hooker, Stephen Moore is again named, but he has been bracketed on the bench with Saia Fainga’a. Tatafu Polota Nau retains his starting position, having performed strongly after replacing Moore in Perth last weekend when the Brumbies hooker strained his hamstring at training.
A decision on whether Moore is fit to play will be made later.
If he features, Moore will play his 73rd Test, surpassing Jeremy Paul for the most appearances by an Australian Test hooker.
The Wallabies team to play Argentina on Saturday in The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast (kick-off: 8pm AEST) is:
15. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)
14. Dominic Shipperley (Queensland Reds)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
9. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
8. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
7. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
6. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
5. Nathan Sharpe (c) (Western Force)
4. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
Run on Reserves:
16. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)/Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
19. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
20. Brett Sheehan (Western Force)
21. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
22. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)