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Australia A make minimal changes in quest for Pacific Nations Cup title

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by LEON LORD/AFP via Getty Images)

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With the Pacific Nations Cup title in the balance, Australia A have made minimal changes to their team to face Tonga on Saturday.

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Australia’s second-tier national side sit in second place on the Pacific Nations Cup table heading into this weekend’s final round of action after they bounced back from a surprise opening loss to Samoa to stun Fiji with a bonus point win in Lautoka last week.

Trailing the first-placed Samoans by three competition points, Australia A must beat the winless ‘Ikale Tahi and hope Fiji can do the same against Samoa at Churchill Park this weekend in order to claim their first-ever Pacific Nations Cup title.

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On the back of their 32-18 win over the Flying Fijians, Australia A head coach Jason Gilmore has retained most of the players who featured in that match, making just two changes to his starting lineup.

Both of those changes come in the forward pack, where Brumbies hooker Billy Pollard takes the place of his Reds counterpart Matt Faessler, who drops to the bench at the expense of two-test Wallabies rake Feleti Kaitu’u.

The only other alteration sees Reds utility forward Seru Uru moves from blindside flanker to lock, with Reds second rower Ryan Smith dropping out of the match day squad while Waratahs flanker Will Harris moves into the No 6 jersey.

Faessler is one of five new additions to the bench alongside Brumbies prop Tom Ross, Force loose forward Tim Anstee, Waratahs first-five Tane Edmed and Reds midfielder Hamish Stewart.

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That quartet has replaced Brumbies prop Archer Holz, Force utility forward Jackson Pugh, Reds playmaker Isaac Henry and Waratahs wing Mark Nawaqanitawase, the latter of whom has been called into the Wallabies camp as injury cover.

Led by captain Ryan Lonergan, Australia A is also expected to heavily rely on vice-captains Fraser McReight and Lalakai Foketi, as well as star wing Filipo Daugunu, the discarded Wallabies trio who have all been key figures in their side’s Pacific Nations Cup title race.

Up against a Tonga team without its star trio of Israel Folau, Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau, Gilmore refused to minimise the threat posed by the ‘Ikale Tahi this weekend.

“The group has worked hard over the last fortnight to get a great result against Fiji,” Gilmore said in a statement.

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“To beat a strong Fiji team in Fiji was a special occasion for everyone, in particular for Seru, Filipo, Langi [Gleeson] and Mark.

“But we need to back it up against Tonga, they will be desperate for a win and will bring plenty of physicality early.

“We know what to expect and need to make our actions count. The boys are excited for the challenge ahead.”

Kick-off for Saturday’s clash between Australia A and Tonga is scheduled for 12pm local time.

Australia A team to play Tonga

1.Matt Gibbon
2. Billy Pollard
3. Tom Robertson
4. Hugh Sinclair
5. Seru Uru
6. Will Harris
7. Fraser McReight (vc)
8. Langi Gleeson
9. Ryan Lonergan (c)
10. Ben Donaldson
11. Filipo Daugunu
12. Lalakai Foketi (vc)
13. Hudson Creighton
14. Dylan Pietsch
15. Jock Campbell

Reserves:

16. Matt Faessler
17. Harry Hoopert
18. Tom Ross
19. Jeremy Williams
20. Tim Anstee
21. James Tuttle
22. Tane Edmed
23. Hamish Stewart

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