Cheika hands three players debuts against England
England coach Eddie Jones had anticipated Wallabies mentor Michael Cheika would not name a debutant in his back row for the first Cook Cup Test at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night.
But the mind games between the two fiercely competitive former Randwick teammates have continued, with Cheika doing something Jones did not expect – the Wallabies coach (pictured) naming debutant Rory Arnold from the Brumbies to start in the second row.
Dynamic Reds ball-runner Samu Kerevi will also make his Wallabies debut at inside centre, with the Western Force’s Dane Haylett-Petty to earn his first start in an Australian jersey on the wing.
Standing a mammoth 208cm tall, Arnold will become the tallest man to wear the gold jersey alongside Rob Simmons in the second row.
Haylett-Petty and Kerevi have been outstanding in under- performing Super Rugby teams.
They are both in the competition’s top 10 for overall carries, defenders beaten and overall metres, with Kerevi also in that elite bracket for clean breaks (19).
Cheika backed all three to make an impact under the spotlight of a Cook Cup Test in Brisbane.
“We have a good mix of new blood and players who have been connected to the group for some time and the energy and enjoyment within the group has been excellent,” Cheika said.
Starting second-rower from last year’s World Cup final, Kane Douglas, is still recovering from the ACL injury he suffered 17 minutes into the defeat against New Zealand.
Simmons said he would be happy to partner Arnold, who made his Super Rugby debut against Queensland at lock last year. The 60-Test veteran said Arnold was “fit enough and obviously performing quite well” this week.
Cheika opted to go for a big and intimidating centre pairing of Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani, with Christian Lealiifano only joining the Wallabies squad on Wednesday night after his partner Luga gave birth to their son Jeremih.
Lealiifano is on the bench, with the starting pairing of Kerevi and Kuridrani a combined weight in excess of 200kg.
In the selection of Haylett-Petty, Cheika resisted the temptation to unleash another big rookie back on the English, with Fiji-born Taqele Naiyaravoro missing out on the match-day squad altogether.
Haylett-Petty plays at fullback for the Force but will shift to the wing with Israel Folau retaining the No.15 jersey, despite talk he was a chance to move into the centres.
Tight-head prop Sekope Kepu arrived late to Cheika’s training camp from French club Bordeaux-Begles. He has been relegated to the bench with Queensland’s Greg Holmes getting the start in the front row alongside skipper Stephen Moore and loose-head Scott Sio.
Meanwhile, Owen Farrell will start at fly-half for England with George Ford dropping to the bench.
Luther Burrell is selected at inside centre, while Marland Yarde is picked on the wing ahead of Jack Nowell.
Ex-captain Chris Robshaw is back on the blind-side after missing the Wales win.
Jones has opted to start with the same pack which began the final Six Nations game against France.
Match-day 23: Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (capt), Greg Holmes, Rory Arnold, Rob Simmons, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper (vice capt), David Pocock, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Sean McMahon, Nick Frisby, Christian Lealiifano.
Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Luther Burrell, Marland Yarde; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Matt Mullan, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Danny Care, George Ford, Jack Nowell