Fainga'a takes centre stage

Tue, 23 Aug 2011 00:00
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A second Test start for Anthony Fainga'a and a return to the starting XV for Radike Samo and Dan Vickerman highlight the Wallabies team for Saturday's Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane.

A second Test start for Anthony Fainga'a and a return to the starting XV for Radike Samo and Dan Vickerman highlight the Wallabies team for Saturday's Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane.

The inclusions of Fainga'a offers the Reds midfielder a great opportunity to push for a more regular starting spot, especially in the absence of the one-match banned slapped on party boy James O'Connor.

Also, the inclusion of Samo adds to what already promises to be a special occasion for local fans - as the Reds title-winning skipper James Horwill leads his country for the first time in front of a sell out home crowd, becoming Australia's 77th Test captain.

Horwill will be partnered in the second row by Vickerman, who has been handed a starting role after furthering his match fitness with the Sydney University club in the time since his 28 minutes from the bench in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test of the year, two-and-a-half weeks ago in Auckland.

Behind the pair, Samo starts his first Test since 2004, after coming from the bench for the final 21 minutes of Australia's gritty 14-9 win over South Africa in Durban 10 days ago.

The big Fijian-born No.8 last started a match at the top level during the Reds' 18-13 win over the Crusaders in the Super Rugby Final at Suncorp Stadium last month, but has been active in club rugby since.

The Super Rugby finale was also the most recent starting appearance for Anthony Fainga'a, who took the field from the bench at the same time as Samo did in Durban.

Saturday will be the seventh Test of the Fainga'a career, with both of his starts coming against New Zealand, after he appeared in the midfield during last year's Test at Christchurch.

His twin brother Saia is again included on the bench, backing up the man of the match from Durban, Stephen Moore.

The promotion of the Queensland pair sees Scott Higginbotham take up a bench role this week.

Anthony Fainga'a slots in between inside centre Pat McCabe and the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper, who moves to the wing in place of the banned wing, O'Connor.

Nathan Sharpe, who has been replaced by Vickerman, instead will this week captain the Australian Barbarians in Friday night's international against Canada at Skilled Stadium on the Gold Coast.

The final position among the run on reserves has been left vacant, with the 22nd player to be confirmed out of the Barbarians squad once that fixture has been concluded.

While the Bledisloe Cup is beyond Australia following the 14-30 loss in Auckland earlier in the month, a first Tri-Nations title since 2001 remains within the Wallabies reach following New Zealand's 5-18 loss to South Africa in Port Elizabeth last weekend.

That result has set up a winner take all match this weekend, replicating the 2008 tournament decider when the two teams last clashed in Brisbane, which the All Blacks took by four points, 28-24.

To achieve the title, the Wallabies must end a 19-year drought against the All Blacks in Queensland, having last beaten New Zealand in the Sunshine State in 1992, when just two points separated the sides.

Although the prospect of silverware adds further encouragement, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the backing of the capacity crowd, and the opportunity to make amends after a disappointing night in Auckland will ensure his men are fully focused on the job at hand, and not their imminent assignment in New Zealand.

"The group showed a lot of character to bounce back in South Africa but no one in our party is getting ahead of themselves," Deans said.

"The All Blacks are not the bench mark in world rugby without good reason. They give you nothing and pounce on any opportunities that you give them. To beat them, we will need to be disciplined, accurate, composed but, most of all, deserving."

Deans said the changes to the starting XV reflected the impact the three newcomers had made coming from the bench in their previous outings, as opposed to being of discredit to those who had previously occupied the positions.

"Dan offered go forward for us in the second half in Auckland, and has come on in his overall fitness since that match, while Anthony and Radike both made their presence felt in a big way in Durban. We felt in each instance that their previous contributions warranted further opportunity this week."

The selectors have once again opted for a five-forward, two-back split, with Deans saying the versatility among Australia's starting backline allowed that option.

"The contest in the contact zone will be critical, as it has been in each of the four Tests we've already had this year, so we've opted for a little more strength and depth in that area."

Nor does Deans see Saturday as anything other than a stand-alone contest.

"Obviously there is a lot of rugby coming up in New Zealand, and there will inevitably be expectations around the impact that this weekend might have on that but while a lot is going to happen beyond Saturday, we can't afford to - and won't - be looking beyond this game."

Australia has just twice previously won the Tri-Nations in the competition's 16-year history, going back-to-back in 2000 and 2001.

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Anthony Fainga'a, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 TBC.

Date: Saturday, August 28
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20.05 AEST (10.05 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)

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