Young winger, veteran backrower in Australia 15 v Springboks
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Coach Michael Cheika's only changes to an Australia XV mired in a run of six consecutive losses were to hand a 22-year-old winger his starting debut and to install a veteran backrower hoping to give the Wallabies some stability in the lineout.
Australia plays South Africa in a Rugby Championship match Saturday at Lang Park aiming for its first win in the tournament after two losses to No. 1-ranked New Zealand. It comes after an unprecedented three home losses to England in June and a World Cup final loss to the All Blacks at Twickenham last October, accounting for the lengthy skid.
Reece Hodge will play his first test in the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the 29-9 loss to New Zealand two weeks ago in Wellington. He'll start on the wing in place of injured 116-test veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has returned to his French club Bordeaux.
In the New Zealand match, Hodge showed himself to be a competent long-range goal kicker, landing one from halfway.
"I just like the way he plays," Cheika said. "He's got good composure, good demeanor and the more experience we give him in these big matches, the better he will be."
Cheika's only other change to the starting lineup was on the blindside flank. The 32-year-old utility Dean Mumm, who went on early against the All Blacks to restore order to the lineout, takes over from Scott Fardy, who has played in 35 of Australia's past 43 tests.
"Probably a bit more accurate around the lineout," Cheika said. "I think (Mumm) has played well when he's come off the bench in both matches and has finished for us well. Shown a lot of energy and deserves a start."
Springboks coach Allister Coetzee included Francois Hougaard, Juan de Jongh and Jesse Kriel in a revamped backline. In the only change among the forwards, tighthead prop Lourens Adriaanse will earn his first start in place of Vincent Koch.
South Africa started off the Rugby Championship with a 30-23 home win over Argentina at Nelspruit, before a 26-24 loss to the Pumas at Salta, Argentina.
"Looking at the impact that Juan and Jesse made when they came off the bench in Nelspruit and Salta, I think now is the right time to give them a starting opportunity," Coetzee said.
Hougaard has also been handed a starting spot, lining up on the left wing and pushing Bryan Habana to the opposite side. Hougaard replaces the injured Ruan Combrinck, who is out for the reason after breaking his leg against Argentina.
"Francois covers two positions for us, on the wing and scrumhalf, and apart from that he has other good attributes," Coetzee said. "He is very competitive and his defensive work is solid because he contests very hard on the ground and is a good finisher."
Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Dean Mumm, Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (captain), Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani, Sean McMahon, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Drew Mitchell (one to be omitted).
South Africa: Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk; Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mahoje, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jaco Kriel, Morne Steyn, Lionel Mapoe.