James O’Connor will make his first Test start for six years when Australia take on New Zealand in Saturday’s Rugby Championship finale.
The utility back was brought back in from his exile by making an appearance from the replacements bench in the 16-10 win over Argentina in Brisbane just under two weeks ago.
O’Connor, who will line up at centre for the first time at Test level, has now been given the nod to start against the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup clash and Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has high hopes for the 29-year-old.
Australia vs New Zealand
August 10, 2019, 10:00am
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“I think James will present something different, something we haven’t seen, so something our opponents haven’t seen either,” Cheika said.
“He’s gone well in training and I’m looking forward to seeing him out there. I haven’t known him much but since he’s come into the squad, he’s made me have faith in him.”
His inclusion at the expense of the dropped Tevita Kuridrani was one of four changes made by Cheika for the first of back-to-back Tests against the world champions.
Cheika has also shown a forgiving nature by giving Tolu Latu the start at hooker for the clash in Perth in place of Folau Fainga’a only weeks after the Waratahs man was convicted of drunk driving.
Allan Alaalatoa comes in at tight-head prop for Sekope Kepu, who is dropped from the squad, in a new-look front row in which only Scott Sio has retained his spot.
Nic White returns at scrum-half with his old Brumbies team mate Christian Lealiifano alongside him, but there is no place in the match-day squad for fly-half Bernard Foley for the second Test in a row.
Foley has been a fixture in the number 10 shirt for most of the last five years and although he would still be expected to travel to Japan for his third World Cup next month, his stock with selectors has clearly plummeted.
“It was tight, but Christian did his job last weekend,” Cheika said
“It was his first game back in international colours for a while. He distributed well, made his tackles, took his kicks at goal.”
Someone whose stock remains high despite a lack of game-time this year is number eight David Pocock, who has been struggling with a calf injury.
Cheika said they had always been focused on getting him back for next week’s test in Auckland.
“He’s trained all week with the team now,” the coach said. “So he’s getting very close. I’m confident he’ll be available next week.”