Folau heads 'new' Wallabies
Thu, 20 Jun 2013 08:06
I've never seen him in better shape
Former Rugby League star Israel Folau was among three new caps named to start for the Wallabies in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane.
The Brumbies pair of Ben Mowen and Christian Leali'ifano will also debut Saturday against the tourists at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium, while troubled back Kurtley Beale was named on the bench.
Coach Robbie Deans named Folau on the wing, aiming to take advantage of the speed the athletic 24-year-old once employed to devastating effect in his Rugby League career.
His job will be to mark the powerful George North, who delivered a massive boost to the Lions by convincingly passing a fitness test on his suspect hamstring to be cleared for selection.
Lions assistant coach Rob Howley painted a graphic picture of what awaits former Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm star Folau in the series-opener.
"I've never seen him [North] in better shape and he's available for selection which is a huge fillip for us," Howley said.
"It's a huge morale boost to have someone like George North available for us."
The Wallabies starting line-up features only six players from their last Test outing, a win over Warren Gatland's Wales late last year, including fullback Berrick Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, No.8 Wycliff Palu, lock Kane Douglas and props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.
Will Genia (No.9) and James O'Connor (No.10) reunite as the halfback combination.
Both players have struggled with injury, with O'Connor ruled out of all of last year's Test programme, firstly due to a lacerated liver and then by a hamstring complaint
Genia featured until the mid-point of the Rugby Championship, signing off as the third captain employed by Australia during an extraordinary year when he damaged knee ligaments against South Africa.
Also back from injury is wing Digby Ioane, who declared himself fit just four weeks after knee surgery.
Beale, meanwhile, was given his chance on the bench after recently undergoing two weeks of rehab for alcohol-related issues.
Brumbies skipper Mowen will start on the blindside flank, from where he will call the line-outs. Mowen has led the Brumbies with distinction for the last two seasons, steering them to the top of the Australian conference in this year's Super Rugby standings.
The gifted Leali'ifano, meanwhile, got the nod at inside centre, making a belated debut a year later than expected, after he appeared certain to be Australia's flyhalf in the series against Wales this time last year, before cruelly breaking his ankle.
The 25-year-old will begin the game ahead of experienced Brumbies teammate Pat McCabe, who is on the bench as he completes a return after breaking a bone in his neck.
The Wallabies head into the match boosted by the Lions first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years following their 14-12 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday night.
The second Test is in Melbourne on June 29 with the final clash in Sydney on July 6.
The match will be a massive occasion for all of the Wallabies, but none more so than Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen, who will become the 869th player to represent Australia.
He does so in the state where he was raised, in front of a huge contingent of family members.
Provincial teammate Leali'ifano makes a belated debut, a year later than expected, after he appeared certain to be Australia's flyhalf in the series against Wales this time last year, before cruelly breaking his ankle weeks out from the start of that tour.
The gifted 25-year-old has started exclusively from inside centre this term and claims that Test spot, with his experienced Brumbies teammate Pat McCabe running from the bench as he completes a return after his year-end tour came to a shuddering halt when he broke a bone in his neck.
Leali'ifano will become Wallaby number 868 in what will be the 549th Wallaby match to be recognized as a Test by the Australian Rugby Union while the selection of the 867th Wallaby will complete an incredible opening to the Rugby Union career of Israel Folau, who will join dual-international ranks less than halfway through in his first season in the game.
Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Pat McCabe, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20.05 AEST (11.05 UK & Ireland time, 10.05 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert, Romain Poite (France)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
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