James O’Connor remains on ice for the Wallabies as coach Dave Rennie left the fit-again star out of his match-day squad for Saturday’s Rugby Championship rematch against the world champion Springboks.
Speaking to Nine and Stan Sport during Sunday’s upset win, O’Connor declared himself fit and ready to go in the Test cauldron after recovering from a groin injury that has sidelined him since Super Rugby.
But with five-eighth Quade Cooper piloting Australia to a memorable victory on the Gold Coast, Rennie has stuck with Tom Banks at fullback and Reece Hodge and Jordan Petaia as his bench backline cover.
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Former Wallaby Morgan Turinui said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven this week that Nic White and O’Connor would be his picks as the Rugby World Cup halves pairing in 2023.
And fellow former Test stars Chris Latham and Elton Flatley told reporters that O’Connor had a strong case to play at fullback ahead of Banks if Cooper’s fairytale form continued.
“We would definitely not have played him a fullback a couple of months ago and prior to that because from a high speed running perspective he just hasn’t hit any decent numbers for the last couple of years,” Rennie said of O’Connor.
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“But he’s worked really hard and he’s the sharpest I’ve seen him.
“He’s definitely into the physical shape where we think we could use him as a utility as opposed to just a 10.”
White has come in for Tate McDermott at halfback after a strong impact performance on Sunday while Rennie has also freshened up his front row.
Props Taniela Tupou and James Slipper come into the starting lineup for Allan Alaalatoa and Angus Bell respectively while Tom Robertson and Darcy Swain are new faces on the bench.
It will be a special night for the indefatigable Michael Hooper, who will break George Gregan’s record for most Tests as Wallabies captain (59).
“It’s an incredible milestone for Hoops on Saturday evening in Brisbane and it’s a testament to him as a person and a player,” Rennie said.
“I’ve been so impressed with his leadership both on and off the field and his drive to be better every day.
“We were really proud of the effort from our men last Sunday and we’re well aware of the ferocity that a wounded Springboks outfit will bring to Suncorp Stadium.”
Meanwhile, South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber made two changes to his starting lineup.
Lock Lood de Jager is out with concussion and replaced by Marvin Orie while loosehead prop Trevor Nyakane comes in for Steven Kitshoff.
Star winger Cheslin Kolbe remains sidelined with injury.
“Australia were desperate to win last week and it showed in the way they played,” Nienaber said.
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“There is no doubt the result would have given them confidence so we are expecting them to deliver a similarly driven performance this week.”
“This is an experienced group of players who knows what it takes to deliver under pressure and we all know what we need to do to bounce back from last week’s defeat.”
WALLABIES (15-1): Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper
Reserves: Feleti Kaitu’u, Angus Bell, Tom Robertson, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia
SPRINGBOKS (15-1): Willie le Roux, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Franco Mostert, Siya Kolisi (c), Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane
Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Jasper Wiese, Herschel Jantjies, Damian Willemse