The Qantas Wallabies have announced five uncapped players in their 23-man Test squad with playmakerMatt Toomua to make his debut at flyhalf in Saturday night’s opening Bledisloe Cup and Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship clash against New Zealand at ANZ Stadium.
Toomua is the sole debutant to be chosen in new coach Ewen McKenzie’s inaugural Test starting line-up while fellow uncapped ACT Brumbies teammates Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Nic White and Tevita Kuridrani have all earned places on the bench.
The selection of five uncapped players marks a new era under McKenzie and is reward for their year-long performances in a Brumbies side that only marginally went down to New Zealand’s Chiefs in the Super Rugby Final a fortnight ago.
They’ll be expected to play an integral role in a new-look Qantas Wallabies line-up that includes eight changes to the starting XV which took the field for Australia in their final Test against The British & Irish Lions in July.
Those changes comprise of Ben Mowen shifting to No.8 and James O’Connor to the wing, along with the inclusion of prop James Slipper, lock Rob Simmons, flankers Hugh McMeniman and Michael Hooper, fullback Jesse Mogg and Toomua.
McKenzie said he was confident the new group could achieve immediate success as they begin their pursuit of winning the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.
“When we picked the team we didn’t spend one minute looking at how many Test caps a player had or the number of debutants. It was picked on performance over a sustained period of time and on how we want to play the game,” McKenzie said.
“The fact that five guys haven’t played a Test before isn’t a concern. Everyone has to start from somewhere and we definitely haven’t picked them on one game. Rather, they are starting their Test careers off the back of consistently strong performances at a provincial level.
“The reality is that whether it’s in Super Rugby or the Test arena, all our guys have a lot of familiarity with who we are playing against. I see that as a positive as we aren’t playing anyone we don’t already know a lot about.
“If you keep the contest in that space you will find that we’ve had success in all the head-to-head individual battles at some point and under different circumstances.
“So, if our guys do well against their individual opponent, than I think we’ve got a gameplan and a game style where we will be able to express ourselves and put the team in a good position to win.”
All five potential debutants have experienced unique journeys on their way to winning selection in the Qantas Wallabies line-up for Saturday night.
For Toomua, his selection has been four years in the making after the talented 23-year-old made the briefest of appearances for Australia in an uncapped midweek clash against the Cardiff Blues in 2009.
Toomua lasted just four minutes when a broken jaw ended his night prematurely, setting the tone for a frustrating next three seasons where he was limited to just 28 Super Rugby games heading into 2013.
Having enjoyed an injury-free preseason, Toomua has stepped up to the next level during the past year and was an integral member to both the Brumbies’ Super Rugby Finals Series success and also their historic midweek victory over The British & Irish Lions in June.
“We could have gone many different ways at flyhalf as we have a lot of good options there, but in the end we see some great tactical opportunities starting the game with Matt,” McKenzie said.
“It’s obvious that each of our playmaking options have different styles so it’s important that we’re looking to get the best out of their individual strengths at different stages of the game.
“To his credit, Matt has had a really good season and he has been playing up until last week in a team that made the Super Rugby Final. He’s done a lot of good things and there isn’t any reason he doesn’t deserve a go.”
While just 21 years of age, Sio flashed enormous potential in his second year of Super Rugby to earn a place on the Qantas Wallabies bench.
However his rapid rise has not come unexpectedly, with Sio continuing his family’s long Rugby tradition after father and prop Tevita ‘David’ Sio represented Samoa in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
It will also be a special occasion for Sio and his family after the 116kg prop was initially named in the Qantas Wallabies squad to take on The British & Irish Lions only to miss out on matchday selection throughout the series.
Joining Sio on the bench is fellow 21-year-old youngster Tevita Kuridrani, who was a deserving winner of the ‘Most Outstanding Young Talent’ award at the Brumbies annual awards ceremony at the weekend.
Also in just his second year of Super Rugby, Kuridrani quickly solidified his place in the starting line-up with an emphasis on strong ball running highlighted when he scored the winning try in the Brumbies upset victory over the Bulls in the Super Rugby Semi-Final.
While Kuridrani just pips Sio as the youngest member of the potential debutants, it’s 29-year-old backrower Scott Fardy who sits at the other end of the spectrum.
It has been an unlikely journey for Fardy to Qantas Wallabies selection after he left Australia for Japanese club Kamaishi Seawaves in 2009 having never played a game of Super Rugby despite spending a season with the Western Force Academy in 2008.
However, after being forced to return to Australia when his village was wiped out by the 2011 tsunami, Fardy took up an Extended Playing Squad contract with the Brumbies only to be offered a fulltime contracted midway through the 2012 season.
He has taken massive strides since returning to Australia and has shown the ability to be equally productive as either a backrower or lock.
Scrumhalf Nic White has been waiting in the wings for a number of years to receive an opportunity for Australia after having sat on the bench for all three of the Qantas Wallabies wins over Wales last June before a shoulder injury ended any hopes of making a Test debut during the Spring Tour.
White returned to full health in 2013 but was overlooked for Australia’s recent series against The British & Irish Lions only to feature heavily in the Brumbies playoff run which ended just short of a dream finish in the Super Rugby Final.
Tickets for the Qantas Wallabies clash against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on Saturday 17 August are on sale now via www.ticketek.com.au.
The Qantas Wallabies side to play New Zealand in the opening Bledisloe Cup and Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship match at ANZ Stadium on Saturday 17 August is:
1. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
2. Stephen Moore (ACT Brumbies)
3. Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies)
4. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
5. James Horwill (c – Queensland Reds)
6. Hugh McMeniman (Western Force)
7. Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs)
8. Ben Mowen (ACT Brumbies)
9. Will Genia (vc – Queensland Reds)
10. Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies)*
11. James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels)
12. Christian Leali’ifano (ACT Brumbies)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
14. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
15. Jesse Mogg (ACT Brumbies)
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. Scott Sio (ACT Brumbies)*
18. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
19. Scott Fardy (ACT Brumbies)*
20. Liam Gill (Queensland Reds)
21. Nic White (ACT Brumbies)*
22. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
23. Tevita Kuridrani (ACT Brumbies)*