Australian Wallabies team to play Russia named

The selection of regular No 8 Radike Samo on the wing is the most notable among a number of changes made to the Wallabies side announced today for Saturday’s historic first ever clash against Russia.

Samo finished last week’s 67-5 win over the United States on the wing after a spate of injuries disrupted the Australian backline, scoring a try. He has been given a further chance to shine in the position as coach Robbie Deans shuffles his resources for Australia’s final pool match in the upper South Island city of Nelson.

Just two backs, and four forwards, have been retained in their starting positions from the run on combination that Australia fielded against the United States of America last Friday night.

Flyhalf Quade Cooper and winger Drew Mitchell remain in the backline.

Around them it is all change, with James O’Connor resuming after a hamstring injury at fullback, while Samo returns to the wing position he originally played in for the Canberra Vikings after his arrival in Australia in the late 1990s.

Last week’s hat-trick man, Adam Ashley-Cooper, moves from wing to centre, combining in the midfield with Berrick Barnes, after he performed well coming off the bench in Wellington.

Luke Burgess gains his first tournament start operating behind the Australian pack, but all three halfbacks in the Wallabies squad may get a run, with last week’s skipper Will Genia and third halfback Nick Phipps the only backs named on the bench.

Should Phipps feature along with reserve prop Salesi Ma’afu, all of Australia’s 30-man squad will have gained on-field time during the pool phase. The Australian Sevens representative would also become the first player to have represented the new Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby franchise at a Rugby World Cup.

While Australia still has four backs – fullback Kurtley Beale, winger Digby Ioane and midfielders Rob Horne and Pat McCabe – unavailable through injury; the pressure is at least starting to ease on the Wallabies forwards.

Skipper and lock James Horwill and loose forward Scott Higginbotham both return, after being sidelined last week, while flanker David Pocock is also back in harness, with last year’s John Eales Medal winner featuring for the first time since Australia’s opening match of the tournament.

His return moves Force team-mate Ben McCalman from the side to the back of the scrum, while all three Australian hookers have been included, with Stephen Moore starting while Tatafu Polota Nau and Saia Fainga’a will play from the bench.

Although injuries have taxed Australia’s resources, with this week’s loss of No 8 Wycliff Palu for the tournament due to a hamstring injury the latest setback, Deans has no doubt that the combination selected for the weekend can get the result needed to secure Australia’s position in the next round of the competition.

“While there are various permutations as to where we might finish, we need to win first and foremost. No one in our group is looking beyond this match,” Deans says.

“The Russians won’t be easy. They will be excited about the prospect of playing against a top tier nation and will be looking to finish their first Rugby World Cup with a strong performance. They have been competitive in their three matches to date and scored two tries against Ireland.”

Deans says the inclusion of all three squad halfbacks, and all three hookers, was caused by the team’s current injury circumstance, as was the inclusion of Samo on the wing.

“We’ve had to be a bit creative but it’s never been about the number on their back,” he says.

“The players all know the role-play. While some of them might be out of their normal positions, they won’t let us down and will enjoy the opportunity. We saw that last week with Radike [Samo] and Tatafu [Polota Nau] in the match against the United States.”

A bonus point win will advance Australia into the quarter-finals, although the Wallabies will most likely finish as Pool C runners-up unless Italy beats Ireland in Dunedin on Sunday.

If both Australia and Italy were to record bonus point wins, and finish tied on the final standings, Australia would advance as the pool’s top qualifier because of its 32-6 win over Italy earlier in the tournament.

The Wallabies team to play Russia in the ninth match of Pool C at the Rugby World Cup, at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Saturday (kick-off: 3.30pm NZ Daylight Saving time, 12.30pm AEST) is:

15. James O’Connor (Western Force)

14. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)

13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies)

12. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)

11. Drew Mitchell (NSW Waratahs)

10. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)

9. Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs)

8. Ben McCalman (Western Force)

7. David Pocock (Western Force)

6. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)

5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)

4. James Horwill (Queensland Reds, captain)

3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)

2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)

1. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)

Run on Reserves:

16. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)

17. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)

18. Salesi Ma’afu (Brumbies)

19. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)

20. Rocky Elsom (Brumbies)

21. Will Genia (Queensland Reds)

22. Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels)

Test Notes

  • This is the first instance of Australia facing Russia in rugby union.
  • Russia, which has qualified for its first Rugby World Cup, became the tournament’s 25th individual participant by doing so.
  • Saturday’s match is the 529th Test played by a side recognised as representing Australia. Russia will become the 24th different opponent to have featured against the Wallabies in those Test matches, and the first ‘new’ opponent since Australia played the combined Pacific Islands side at Adelaide in 2004.
  • The only participant on debut in 2011, this match represents the Russians last opportunity to avoid becoming the ninth country unable to win a match on its Rugby World Cup debut. Japan, Tonga and Zimbabwe all came away empty handed from the inaugural event in 1987 while Cote ‘D Ivoire (1995), Spain and Namibia (1999), Georgia (2003) and Portugal (2007) have subsequently failed to register a win during their maiden Rugby World Cup appearances. Russia has already lost Pool matches against the United States of America, Italy and Ireland.
  • During the Cold War era, a side represented the USSR, appearing in Nelson during the Soviets’ 1991 tour of New Zealand. The political break-up of the former Soviet Union later that year saw the individual republics go their own separate way. Two of them have subsequently featured at the Rugby World Cup, with Russia’s entry this year following on from Georgia’s admittance to the tournament at the 2003 event in Australia.
  • While Australia is on debut at Trafalgar Park in Nelson, the venue did host both the NSW Waratahs and Brumbies sides in Super Rugby matches earlier in the year after the Crusaders franchise relocated the matches from earthquake-hit Christchurch.
  • Nelson was the venue for the first recorded game of rugby union in New Zealand, 141 years ago on 14 May, 1870.

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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