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Skelton returns as Wallabies ring changes for France

By AAP
(Photo by Ian Jacobs/MB Media/Getty Images)

Dave Rennie is pledging to “pick and stick” after making another raft of changes for the Wallabies’ spring tour showdown with European kings France.

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But consistency at the selection table will not happen until next year, with Rennie making no apologies for tinkering with his team for the duration of Australia’s gruelling end-of-season tour.

Rennie has promoted fullback Jock Campbell, centre Lalakai Foketi, halfback Nic White and prop Taniela Tupou to start in Paris on Sunday morning (AEDT), with only one of the four changes forced upon the coach.

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Tupou replaces Allan Alaalatoa, who was ruled out after showing concussion symptoms at halftime in Australia’s tour-opening 16-15 win over Scotland.

The Wallabies have only fielded the same starting XV once during Rennie’s 31-Test tenure, raising concerns his side will lack cohesion at next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.

“(For) the World Cup we’ll definitely pick and stick next year,” Rennie said on Thursd ay.

“What we’ve got to understand is we can put our best side, or try and put our best side out, every week – but that’s a struggle, playing five internationals in a row over here.

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“We’ve got a hell of a lot of guys that aren’t here that we think will be part of our World Cup squad and so it is important that we give opportunity for certain guys.

“We look at our three nines; we could play one of them every week but (what) if he gets injured and doesn’t go to the World Cup and we’ve missed an opportunity over here.”

White will get his chance to start against the French, replacing Tate McDermott, with Jake Gordon coming on to the bench and promised a start next week against Italy.

“Tate was good and we expected that. He made a line break early and he got a line bend beyond that,” Rennie said.

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“But it was quite noticeable when Nic White came on… the quality of his distribution, his speed to breakdown which allows to play quicker and play on top.”

Late-blooming Campbell will make his starting debut at age 27 after Tom Banks suffered an ankle injury against Scotland.

“We were keen to give Jock a start on this tour,” Rennie said.

“He’s trained with us for a number of weeks now and he’s really impressed us. He’s a really smart footballer, he’s got good feet and a good skill set.

“He’s not a kid, he’s had to work hard for his opportunity and, at 27, he’s pretty mature, so we reckon he’s ready to go.”

Foketi’s inclusion at No.12 has relegated Hunter Paisami to the bench.

“Lalakai, he’s been excellent this year. He had a massive year for for the Waratahs,” Rennie said.

“He’s a bigger body, he’s got good feet, a very good skill-set and we think that’ll be important this week.”

Chasing back-to-back wins for the first time in 13 months, the erratic Wallabies face a huge test of their credentials against the second-ranked Les Bleus.

France are riding a 10-match winning streak, with Europe’s reigning Six Nations champions last tasting defeat 16 months ago in the series-deciding Test against Australia in Brisbane.

In other personnel changes, France-based lock Will Skelton and utility back Reece Hodge come on to the bench.

WALLABIES: Jock Campbell, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Lalakai Foketi, Tom Wright, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Cadeyrn Neville, Nick Frost, Taniela Tupou, David Porecki, James Slipper (capt). Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Matt Gibbon, Tom Robertson, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Hunter Paisami, Reece Hodge.

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