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Emirates Western Force lock will Nathan Sharpe will become Australia’s equal most-capped forward when he leads the Wallabies in Saturday’s (1am, Sunday morning, AWST) fifth Test of The Rugby Championship in Pretoria.
Sharpe, who makes the 110th appearance of his 11-year Test career, since his debut against France in Melbourne in 2002, will captain the Wallabies for the fourth time in his career.
In doing so, he levels with Australia’s premier former openside flanker George Smith, as the country’s most capped forward. The 110-Test tally accumulated by the pair has been bettered only by Australia and the game’s most capped player, the ex-halfback and current Australian Rugby Union board member, George Gregan.
Australia faces South Africa at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in a game that could determine second spot in the inaugural Rugby Championship.
Former schoolboy star Kurtley Beale will play his 30th Test match, but his first at flyhalf, after being named in the number 10 jersey as the replacement for Quade Cooper, playing outside of his Melbourne Rebels team-mate Nick Phipps.
Up front, NSW Waratahs front-rower Benn Robinson will become just the third prop, and the 36th Australian player overall, to feature in 50 Test matches.
Robinson, who led the Waratahs for the first time in Super Rugby earlier in the year, plays his 50th Test in South Africa after taking his maiden bow on the international stage in the Republic six years ago when he made his Wallaby debut at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The absence of the injured Cooper is the only change to the Wallabies starting side from that which rallied from 13 points behind to beat Argentina 23-19 on the Gold Coast at the team’s most recent outing.
NSW Waratahs second rower Kane Douglas, who made an impressive Test debut against Argentina, has retained his place, with Sitaleki Timani falling short in his bid to return from a hamstring strain.
The Queensland Reds second rower Rob Simmons comes in on a bench which features five forwards, while the evergreen Emirates Western Force halfback Brett Sheehan is one of two back reserves, alongside Anthony Fainga’a.
Sheehan, who was recalled to the Wallabies when injury rubbed out Will Genia, played the last of his three Tests to date against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2008. All three of his previous Test appearances have been made on South African soil.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans warned that Saturday’s challenge at a ground where Australia has never won would be the team’s toughest yet.
“They are proud men, and they don’t lose at Loftus very often,” Deans said of the Springboks.
“While they are coming off a tour which would have disappointed them, they were in both contests and will feel that they could have won on both occasions. That will only spur them on, as will the atmosphere which is always electric for Test matches in Pretoria.”
The Wallabies team to play South Africa in The Rugby Championship and Mandela Challenge Plate Test on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria (kick-off: 5pm SA time, 3am, Sunday 30 September 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. Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs)
9. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
8. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
7. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
6. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
5. Nathan Sharpe (c)(Emirates Western Force)
4. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
20. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21. Brett Sheehan (Emirates Western Force)
22. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)