A reserve no more: Reece Hodge starts for Wallabies vs Pumas

TOWNSVILLE, Australia (AP) — Fullback Tom Banks' pain has turned into Reece Hodge's gain for the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship match Saturday against Argentina.

Banks left the field clutching his right arm midway through the first half of Australia's 30-17 win over South Africa last weekend, the Wallabies' second win in a row over the world-champion Springboks. Scans revealed that Banks fractured his arm and he will be sidelined for an estimated six weeks.

On Thursday, Australia coach Dave Rennie named Hodge at fullback in his starting side against the Pumas, breaking a run of five consecutive test appearances off the bench for the Melbourne Rebels player.

Hodge’s versatility has often counted against him in a 50-test career that has seen him used as cover across the backline and midfield rather than a specialist. His only other test start at fullback came almost a year ago when Hodge was named in the starting 15 in a 16-16 draw with the Pumas.

“It’s awesome to be able to get another starting berth . . . they’ve kind of been few and far between in the last couple of years,” Hodge said on Thursday. “(It’s) a massive opportunity for myself and the squad this week to put together three back-to-back wins, we haven’t done that in quite a while."

The last time the Wallabies won three in a row was in 2017.

Fellow Rebels player Rob Leota earned his first start for Australia, named at blindside flanker. He and Hodge are two of three changes to the match-day squad with playmaker James O’Connor set to make his first international appearance for the year from the reserves.

An unchanged front row sees James Slipper play his 109th test alongside club teammate Folau Fainga’a and powerhouse Taniela Tupou. Leota will be joined in the backrow by skipper Michael Hooper at openside flanker and Rob Valetini at No. 8.

Nic White will again partner Quade Cooper in the halves, with the Len Ikitau with Samu Kerevi in the midfield.

“It’s a really proud moment for Rob (Leota) and his family . . . he’s really impressed us with his work ethic on and off the field and worked hard for this opportunity," Rennie said.

Argentina head coach Mario Ledesma was expected to name his side later Thursday. The Pumas have lost all four of their Rugby Championship matches, two each to South Africa and New Zealand.

The Wallabies have improved from seventh to third in Rugby World rankings after the back-to-back wins over the Springboks.

Australia will play Argentina again on the Gold Coast in Queensland state next weekend in its final match of the Rugby Championship. Then the Wallabies will depart for an overseas tour that includes a match against Japan on Oct. 23 and November tests in Britain against Scotland, England and Wales.


Australia: Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia.

Argentina: to be named.


More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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