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Wounded Wallabies make five changes

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rugby.com.au     05 Oct 2012     Getty Images

Selection comes a day before the popular winger’s 25th birthday, as he moves into a reshaped backline for the clash against Los Pumas at Rosario, in the after math of the dramatic night at Loftus Versfeld last weekend which removed this season’s backline stalwarts Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper from selection calculations.

The pair, who between them can lay claim to 118 Test caps, were both injured during the 8-31 loss to South Africa which opened Australia’s away tour in the competition.

Barnes was one of just three players, alongside current skipper Nathan Sharpe and winger Digby Ioane, to have started in all nine Tests played by Australia to date in 2012.

He was also one of four players to have filled the fullback berth during those nine games with Ashley-Cooper – who had started in all but the season-opening Test against Scotland in Newcastle – being another.

That honour now falls to Queensland Reds back Mike Harris, who will also take over the duties from Barnes as Australia’s lead-off goal-kicker. Harris has already proved himself in that role, kicking the match-winning penalty goal after the final siren when Australia beat Wales 20-19 in Melbourne to clinch the James Bevan Trophy Series earlier in the year.

After not originally being named on the bench at Loftus, and only taking his place after loose forward Scott Higginbotham was ruled out following a pre-game fitness Test, Harris wound up finishing last weekend’s match at fullback, from where he scored his maiden Test try.

Overall, the Australian run on team for the final Rugby Championship encounter features six changes from the side which came from behind on the Gold Coast to beat Argentina 23-19 just three weeks ago.

There are five changes to the XV from that which started the previous match: Harris and Cummins replace Barnes and Dominic Shipperley respectively, while Ben Tapuai reclaims a place in the Test side standing in for Ashley-Cooper.

A late entrant to the Wallabies squad this season after himself being lowered by a shoulder injury in Fx Pro Super Rugby, Tapuai will make just his second Test appearance this weekend, after debuting in the Test against Wales at Cardiff on last year’s brief Spring Tour.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the promotion of Cummins rewards his hard work in the background as a squad member through the season to date, noting that his extra size will be an asset in handling the Pumas’ physical approach across the field.

“Nick has waited patiently for his chance, but has earned the right to represent his country,” Deans says.

“We know that the Pumas will be coming straight at us, and will be looking to profit in the collision in the same way that the Springboks did last week. We’ve addressed that, both internally in our discussions, but also with our selection, where we have gone for the players we feel are best suited to that approach.”

On Tapuai, Deans says a Test return was always a case of when, not if, after the Queensland Reds midfielder made an impressive start to his international career on last year’s tour.

“Ben would have been involved earlier, but for injury disrupting his progress,” Deans says.

“But he has worked hard in our environment, gained match fitness playing a significant amount of club rugby in Brisbane, and brings a skill set that we feel will be useful in countering the Pumas, who will get off the line quickly in defence.”

In the forwards, Sitaleki Timani makes a welcome return to a bulked up pack, taking over from Dave Dennis on the blindside flank. The big NSW Waratahs forward’s previous six Test appearances have all been earned in the second row.

“As with the backs, we’ve looked to increase our physicality to counter the direct force that will undoubtedly be coming the other way,” Deans says.

“Although he hasn’t played at six in Test matches, Sita does have some background in the position, and he’s coming in relatively fresh after a four-week injury break. Dave [Dennis] has had a big workload, both in Super rugby where he was a regular, but also by featuring in every Test so far, which is a significant achievement in what is his first year as a Test player. That work load has taken its toll a little bit, but he will still be available to provide cover for either Sita, or the second rowers Kane [Douglas] and Nathan [Nathan Sharpe] off the bench.”

A further change sees James Slipper promoted to start at loosehead prop, switching roles with Benn Robinson, who moves to the bench.

“Notwithstanding last week’s yellow card, James has consistently made an impact this year,” Deans says.

“As is the case with Dennis, we feel we are better served to use the players in the reverse order to last week, with Slipper starting while Robinson provides the fresh legs later in the contest.”

In anticipation of a physical forward onslaught from Argentina, the Qantas Wallabies selectors have again opted for a five-forward, two-back split among the substitutes.

Higginbotham, who was ruled out shortly before kick off in South Africa due to a back complaint, has overcome the problem to take his place on the bench this week.

Brett Sheehan, who made his fourth appearance, but the first in four years, from a career that exclusively features Test matches on South African soil, continues as halfback understudy, while Shipperley will be hoping to add to his favourable Rosario memories if inserted into the game.

The Queensland speedster visited Rosario in 2010, alongside fellow Wallabies’ squad members flankers Michael Hooper and Liam Gill, and fullback Luke Morahan; with the quartet being part of the Australian side which reached the final of that year’s IRB Under-20 World Cup in the city.

Shipperley made his mark at the tournament by scoring a hat-trick in the side’s semi-final win over South Africa. This allowed the team to achieve Australia’s best ever finish at the tournament.

The weekend’s starting XV totals a combined 345 previous Test appearances – 110 of which belong to Sharpe, the Australian captain.

In playing his 111th Test, Sharpe moves into outright second for the most Test matches played by an Australian, while also edging ahead of the 110-matches played by flanker George Smith, to become the most capped Australian Test forward in history.

To put Sharpe’s previous service in perspective, the combined number of caps amassed by Saturday night’s starting backline numbers 88, while the other seven run on forwards boast 147 appearances between them.

The Wallabies team to play Argentina:

15. Mike Harris (Queensland Reds)
14. Nick Cummins (Western Force)
13. Ben Tapuai (Queensland Reds)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
9. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)
8. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
7. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
6. Sitaleki Timani (NSW Waratahs)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force, captain)
4. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)

Run on Reserves:

16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
18. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
19. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
20. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21. Brett Sheehan (Western Force)
22. Dominic Shipperley (Queensland Reds)