James O’Connor will bring some welcome experience to the playmaker role after being named as starting fly-half for Australia’s final Tri-Nations test against Argentina at Western Sydney Stadium on Saturday.
The 30-year-old missed Australia’s three other matches in the tournament with knee and foot injuries and his return means a switch to full-back for Reece Hodge, who started at fly-half in a win over the All Blacks and a draw with Argentina.
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The versatile Hodge, who after Saturday will have started a Test in every backline position barring scrum-half, replaces Tom Banks in one of only two changes to the starting line-up from the team that faced Argentina two weeks ago.
“Reece has done a great job for us at number 10 over the past two games and we’re confident he’ll put in another good performance for us on Saturday night from full-back,” said Australia coach Dave Rennie.
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The other change came in the front row, where Allan Alaalatoa gets the start at tighthead prop in place of Taniela Tupou, who will be expected to make an impact off the bench on Saturday.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto was also named as a replacement after missing the last two Tests with a knee injury and will offer cover for Matt Philip and Rob Simmons in the second row as well as the loose forwards.
Banks is also on the bench as back-three cover with Fijian-born winger Filipo Daugunu dropping out of the matchday 23 for the first time this season.
Both Australia and Argentina still have a mathematical chance of wresting the title away from New Zealand but the Wallabies would need to win by 101 points and the Pumas by 93.
Australia’s task got a little bit easier after Argentina captain Pablo Matera and two other senior players were suspended for historical racist comments on social media.
Australia: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Nic White, , 1 Scott Sio, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 4 Rob Simmons, 5 Matt Philip, 6 Ned Hanigan, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 8 Harry Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20 Rob Valetini, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Tom Banks
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