Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie has named his team to face the Springboks at Newlands in Cape Town this weekend for the fifth round of The Rugby Championship.
The changes to the starting XV see Queensland Reds hooker Saia Fainga’a and ACT Brumbies winger Joe Tomane earn their first opportunities in the green and gold jersey for 2014, while vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper also returns from injury.
Fainga’a was set to return to the Qantas Wallabies matchday squad a fortnight ago in Australia’s clash against South Africa in Perth, although withdrew on gameday to fly home to Brisbane for the birth of his first child.
Tomane previously missed Test selection in 2014 due to a broken cheekbone during the June Test series against France, while a hamstring injury ruled the 24-year-old out of the opening four games.
In a further change, NSW Waratahs prop Benn Robinson also earns his first Test opportunity for 2014, as part of a traditional 5-3 split on the bench.
McKenzie said the inclusion of Fainga’a to the starting side and Robinson on the bench reflected the importance set-piece would play in the match.
“The set-piece is always an important area of focus for us, even more so when you play South Africa, and we know the outcome of the scrum and line-out will be crucial to the final result,” McKenzie said.
“We recognise that, and are confident the inclusion of Saia and Benn will offer us the best outcome in this area across the entire 80 minutes. They’re both experienced campaigners who have delivered at a high level before, and we expect the same on Saturday night.
“For Saia, we’ve been really impressed with the effort he has put in off the field recently, and he’ll be determined to make the most of this opportunity.
“Benn is someone who we have always said wasn’t out of the selection picture, and we’ve been pleased with the improvements he has made to his game throughout the year. We liked what we saw from him at training during the lead-up to the Gold Coast Test and he now gets his chance.”
McKenzie also welcomed Ashley-Cooper and Tomane back into the squad.
“It’s great to add Adam’s experience to the squad and we expect him to be refreshed and ready to go after missing our most recent Test against Argentina,” he said.
“We’ve been impressed by how Rob Horne has performed on the wing, but we feel Joe deserves an opportunity to also show us what he has got. You can never have enough big backs in your side, and the physicality he brings to the game should serve us well against an abrasive Springboks line-up.”
There are a number of important milestones at stake for Australia on Saturday night.
Victory would see them win back possession of the Mandela Plate, which was won by South Africa in 2013. Australia took the first step to reclaiming the silverware by beating the Springboks 24-23 on the Gold Coast over a fortnight ago.
A win would also see Australia move into second place on the IRB World Rankings, a position currently held by the South Africans.
A third milestone up for grabs would be the chance to break South Africa’s long-running win streak in Cape Town, with no Australian side winning at Newlands Stadium since 1992.