Wallabies to debut Naisarani against Springboks
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Melbourne No. 8 Isi Naisarani will make his debut for Australia against South Africa in the Rugby Championship on Saturday, and prop Harry Johnson-Holmes is set for his maiden appearance from the reserves.
Nic White was starting ahead of Will Genia at scrumhalf in his first test in four years, and Canberra fullback Tom Banks relegated Kurtley Beale to the reserves.
James Slipper was recalled for his first test since December 2016 after a glut of injuries to props, which caused Johnson-Holmes to land in Johannesburg on Wednesday and a summons straight into the matchday 23.
Coach Michael Cheika said this was the best available Wallabies side.
“We wanted to reward some players who had some good form in Super Rugby,” Cheika said on Thursday.
There’s only 10 of the 23 from Australia’s last test in November, a 37-18 loss to England at Twickenham.
The Fiji-born Naisarani was a training player on that November tour. He qualified for Australia on residency in April, and was voted by Melbourne as the players’ player of the season in Super Rugby.
“He’s been building nicely now for probably a year and a half,” Cheika said. “He’s been training hard, he’s been pushing himself.”
After loosehead props Scott Sio (adductor) and Tom Robertson (ankle) returned home injured in training this week, tighthead Allan Alaalatoa was ruled out with a foot injury. Slipper will play his 88th test, and first since 2016, with backup from Johnson-Holmes, who established himself at New South Wales this season only after Robertson was injured.
Flyhalf Christian Lealiifano also had to return to Australia this week with a shoulder problem, costing him a first cap in three years after recovering from cancer. Bernard Foley will start.
White was the backup scrumhalf in the 2015 Rugby Championship, but instead of going to the Rugby World Cup he went to Montpellier in France then Exeter in England. “He’s shown a lot of intensity,” Cheika said. “He’s definitely earned his spot and to have Willy on the bench to finish, it’s a real plus for us.”
There was no room for James O’Connor, who re-signed with Australia and Queensland this week after playing in Europe for most of the last six years, apart from a stint with Queensland in 2015 to try and make that year’s Rugby World Cup.
But Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani will be the centers.
″(O’Connor has) fitted in very well, I’ve got to admit, over the last eight or nine days since he’s been in,” Cheika said. “It’s a little bit soon for this week. With more time, he’ll put himself in a position where he can compete as well.”
Meanwhile, reserve hooker Jordan Uelese could play his first test in nearly two years following knee reconstruction.
“We know a lot of people aren’t giving us much of a chance this season but I believe in our players,” Cheika said.
“We know that anyone that goes out there in our jersey’s going to do whatever it takes to earn what we get this year.”
Australia has not win in South Africa since 2011, and its only win at Ellis Park was in 1963.
Australia: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Nic White; Isi Nairarani, Michael Hooper (captain), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Will Genia, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale.