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Emirates Western Force lock Nathan Sharpe will lead his country in his final Test on Australian soil in Saturday night’s Castrol EDGE Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane.
While not now his career finale, after the 34-year-old last week agreed to participate in next month’s Spring Tour, it will be Sharpe’s final match on Australian soil, appropriately being played in the state where he plied his trade through the first eight years of his professional career before joining the Emirates Western Force as the side’s inaugural captain.
Saturday night’s match will be the 112th in the Test career of Sharpe.
Emirates Western Force outside back Nick Cummins retains his place on the wing after an impressive Test debut against Argentina while Brett Sheehan resumes his place on the Wallabies’ bench.
Adam Ashley-Cooper and Wycliff Palu make their returns in the Wallabies starting side. The inclusion of the pair, as replacements for the injured Digby Ioane (knee) and rested Radike Samo, are two of four changes to the starting XV from Australia’s most recent outing in Argentina 11 days ago.
Scott Higginbotham, who made a big impression after replacing Kane Douglas eight minutes into that match, retains his position on the blindside flank, with Sitaleki Timani remaining in the second row, where he moved to accommodate Higginbotham’s entry, after Douglas was sidelined by injury.
A change up front sees Benn Robinson and James Slipper swap roles, with Robinson returning to the run on side, while Slipper will provide fresh impetus from the bench.
As has been the case for much of the season, the Wallabies will run with a five-forward, two-back split amongst the substitutes, with Drew Mitchell returning on the bench after having made a remarkable recovery from an ankle injury sustained playing the All Blacks in Auckland.
Dominic Shipperley, who was an un-used substitute in Argentina, being ruled out due to a wrist injury.
Fresh from his 20-point haul in the 25-19 win over Los Pumas at Rosario, Mike Harris retains both the fullback position and the goal-kicking duties, for what will be the former New Zealand Under-20 reps first Test against his nation of birth, but also his first Test at his Queensland Reds’ home ground.
Outside centre Ben Tapuai, who likewise impressed in Argentina, also plays his maiden Brisbane Test.
While injury has again impacted on selection, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the loss of Ioane until the Spring Tour, and the decision to rest Samo from the starting XV after his busy recent workload, has at least in part been compensated by the ability to replace the pair with experienced campaigners in Ashley-Cooper and Palu.
“They’re both proven Test performers so it is good to have them back,” Deans says.
“Adam has been cleared after the head knock he suffered in Pretoria. He brings with him all-round skill but also a lot of voice in terms of on-field communication, which will be important with a lot of younger players around him.”
The world champions arrive in Brisbane on Thursday night ranked number one on the IRB standings, and unbeaten in their last 16 matches, which includes three straight wins over the world’s second ranked side, Australia.
Australia terminated a similar All Black winning run two years ago, ending the 15-match unbeaten run by the New Zealanders through 2009 and 2010, with a last minute 26-24 success at Hong Kong.
The Wallabies team to play New Zealand in The Castrol EDGE Bledisloe Cup Test on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (kick-off: 8pm AEST, 9pm AEDST) is:
15. Mike Harris (Queensland Reds)
14. Nick Cummins (Western Force)
13. Ben Tapuai (Queensland Reds)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
10. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
9. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
7. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
6. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force, captain)
4. Sitaleki Timani (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. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
19. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
20. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21. Brett Sheehan (Western Force)
22. Drew Mitchell (NSW Waratahs)