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Wallabies bring in injury-free James O'Connor for Pumas skirmish

Nic White and James O'Connor. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has detailed his no-handout selection policy after resisting the urge to unleash Sean McMahon on international rugby again in Saturday’s Test against Argentina.


The Japan-based flanker will watch from outside the 23 for the third-straight weekend since joining the squad despite being eligible to play his first Test since 2017 thanks to the relaxation of the Giteau Law.

Rennie also resisted any urge to reinstate No 8 Harry Wilson after he played every Test last year, just like centre Hunter Paisami who is another currently able to find a way back into the 23.

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Instead, Rob Leota earned his first start, replacing No 6 Lachie Swinton, and Rob Valetini has kept his spot alongside captain Michael Hooper in the backrow for Townsville’s first Wallabies Test.

Fit-again James O’Connor will return on the bench for his first Test this year, Reece Hodge replacing Tom Banks at fullback after the incumbent broke his arm in the defeat of South Africa last week.

The consistency is by design for Rennie, who is seeing improvements as the new world number three side eyes their first three-match winning streak since 2017.

“The All Blacks can rotate guys and don’t lose a lot and that’s where we want to get to,” Rennie said.


“But our mindset is more around ‘you’ve got to earn the right to wear the jersey’.

“Our mindset is that we’re going to put out the best 15 we can.

“It’s around growing our game at the moment and we’re well conditioned now, our skill set’s improving and our game awareness has been better too.”


Rennie said Wilson and Queensland Reds flanking partner Fraser McReight were unfortunate victims of the side’s renewed depth and, with the more versatile Pete Samu providing cover on the bench, their only way into the side was as starters.

“Harry’s been training the house down … you can’t fault those men,” Rennie said.

“In Fraser’s case he’s got the skipper [Michael Hooper] in front of him, but his attitude has been fantastic and likewise with Harry.

“We’ve got genuine competition for places, creating depth and you can only fit so many in and Harry’s very close but we think Rob deserves a crack.”

Rennie said Leota’s strong running game would serve the Wallabies well, where the dropped Swinton’s prowess in the line-out may not be as crucial as it was against the Springboks.

And he said McMahon would need to be patient with Leota mounting a case the coach simply couldn’t refuse.

“Big man, good ball carrier and has trained very well and been very close to selection in the past,” Rennie said of the imposing Victorian.

“(Sean’s) worked really hard, got himself in good nick and will continue to press, but we’re pretty keen to reward Rob.”

O’Connor will provide backline cover for Hodge and No 10 Quade Cooper, Rennie admitting the playmaker may not have the speed of a typical fullback but could make up for it with his kicking and organisational skills.

The Wallabies will wear their First Nations jersey at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday, in what will also be their first Test match in Townsville.

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

– Murray Wenzel


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