Wallabies plump for James O'Connor for Bledisloe Cup opener against All Blacks

The Wallabies have rolled the dice with James O’Connor as they look to fire their attack against the All Blacks, who have named a power-packed team for the Rugby Championship clash in Perth on Saturday.

In his first start in six years O’Connor has been selected to play outside centre for the clash, which doubles as a Bledisloe Cup Test, in one of four changes to the side that beat Argentina last month in Brisbane.

The Wallabies have struggled to convert dominant possession and opportunities into points in their past two Tests against South Africa and the Pumas, with coach Michael Cheika deciding to bring another ball-player into his backline to replace outside centre Tevita Kuridrani.

Now 29, Connor became the second youngest Wallaby in Australian rugby history at age 18, but his promising career went off track after alcohol and drug indiscretions.

He is not the the only selection gamble by Cheika as he looks to bed down his World Cup squad with just three Tests to play before their opening match in Japan. They are also desperate to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.

Nic White, who was solid in their loss to the Springboks, has relegated veteran halfback Will Genia to the bench. He will partner Christian Lealiifano, who will retain the No 10 jersey ahead of Bernard Foley.

Brumbies tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa has been rushed back into the starting team after overcoming a foot injury and will bolster the front-row against Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody, who led the Crusaders to the Super Rugby title.

Alaalatoa is joined in the front-row by Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu with Folau Fainga’a shifting to the reserves.

After experimenting in the name of World Cup planning through the first two Tests of the Rugby Championship, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen unveiled very close to his strongest XV.

Hansen has stayed with the twin playmaker setup of Richie Mo’unga at five-eighth and Beauden Barrett at fullback, which had its first airing two weeks ago in the 16-16 draw against South Africa.

Seasoned halfback Aaron Smith returns while the impressive Anton Lienert-Brown starts at inside centre in place of Sonny Bill Williams. There are four changes up front from the Springboks stalemate, most notably the return of twin flankers Ardie Savea and Sam Cane.

Openside specialist Savea, arguably the best player in New Zealand this year, will make his first appearance as a blindside flanker in 37 Tests. It means veteran captain Kieran Read remains at No 8, squashing the speculation that he would shift to the side of the scrum to make way for Savea’s power running from the base.

Injured lock Brodie Retallick is replaced by Scott Barrett, who has recovered from a broken finger suffered seven weeks ago. Barrett is one of four Crusaders players in the tight five. The exception is hooker Dane Coles, promoted to start ahead of Crusaders rake Codie Taylor.

Australia: 15-Kurtley Beale, 14-Reece Hodge, 13-James O’Connor, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Christian Lealiifano, 9-Nic White, 8-Isi Naisarani, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5-Rory Arnold, 4-Izack Rodda, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Tolu Latu, 1-Scott Sio. Replacements: 16-Folau Fainga’a, 17-James Slipper, 18-Taniela Tupou, 19-Adam Coleman, 20-Luke Jones, 21-Will Genia, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Tom Banks.

New Zealand: 15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Anton Lienert-Brown, 11-Rieko Ioane, 10-Richie Mo’unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Ardie Savea, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Scott Barrett, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Joe Moody. Replacements: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Atu Moli, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Matt Todd, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Ngani Laumape, 23-George Bridge.

source: theguardian.com