Australia makes 4 changes, England 3 for series decider
SYDNEY (AP) — Harry Wilson has earned a spot in Australia’s starting lineup for the deciding third rugby test against England after a brutal series that has challenged the depth of both squads.
The Reds backrower was one of four changes to Australia’s starting XV for Saturday’s match, with Reece Hodge returning at fullback, lock Nick Frost picked to make his starting debut and veteran James Slipper returning at loosehead prop.
England coach Eddie Jones made three changes to his starting lineup, with two changes enforced by head injuries to lock Maro Itoje and flanker Sam Underhill in the series-leveling 25-17 win in Brisbane last weekend.
Ollie Chessum moved into the second row to start a test for the first time and Lewis Ludlam replaced Underhill on the side of the scrum in the lineup announced Thursday by Jones. Danny Care returned to start at scrumhalf, relegating Jack van Poortvliet to the bench.
“It’s a young, inexperienced but together group who have developed well throughout this series,” Jones said of his 23-man match squad. “We want to play with purpose and energy to win the series and an historic test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.”
Australia is desperate for another win after breaking its eight-test drought against England with a 30-28 victory in the series-opening match in Perth last month.
Wilson, a standout backrower for the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby, missed selection for the first two tests after also being omitted from Australia’s end-of-year tour to Europe in 2021.
He’ll start on the blindside flank to make his 11th test appearance, joining skipper Michael Hooper and No. 8 Rob Valetini in the backrow. Rob Leota drops to the bench as cover for both the second and back rows.
“Harry and Reece are both super excited to wear the Wallaby gold for the first time this year,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said. “We know we’re a much better team than how we played in Brisbane and we’ve had a good week of preparation.”
Rennie said Wilson deserved his spot after weeks of pushing hard for selection.
“It’s been a pretty brutal series so far, as injuries on both sides will tell us,” Rennie said. “So Harry is fresh, ready to go, and keen to rip in.”
Wilson scored five tries for the Reds, led the competition for carries during the Super Rugby Pacific season and was among the leaders for meters carried, offloads and tackles.
The English forwards dominated in the opening half-hour in the second test and the visitors led 19-0 before Australia rallied to get within five points after an hour.
The Wallabies lost the physical contest over the ball at the start of both tests in the series and Wilson’s inclusion and Leota on the bench for the Sydney test is Rennie’s option to help address that issue and a lack of depth in the second row.
Hodge will be the third starting fullback in three tests for Australia, wearing the No. 15 jersey in Sydney after Tom Banks broke his arm in Perth and Jordan Petaia sustained a concussion three minutes into the second test.
The 22-year-old, 2.06-meter (6-foot-9) Frost will partner Matt Philip in the third different locking combination of the series for Australia following Darcy Swain’s two-game suspension and Cadeyrn Neville’s injury in the second test.
“By his own admission (Frost) realizes a few locks have fallen over and so he gets a start pretty early in his career,” Rennie said. “Having said that, we’re very comfortable with Nick starting. He’s a big man, he’s a hell of an athlete. Very good lineout forward.”
Rennie has also included Reds scrumhalf Tate McDermott on the bench for the first time in the series as backup to starting No. 9 Nic White, and given Suliasi Vunivalu a chance to make his test debut after including the former National Rugby League star in the 23-man matchday squad.
“It’s been a long time coming with a couple of setbacks last year,” Vunivalu, a former leading try scorer in the NRL, said of the hamstring injuries which had delayed his test debut. “Main goal coming over to rugby is ... this gold jersey.”
Australia: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Matt Philip, Nick Frost, Taniela Tupou, David Porecki, James Slipper. Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Suliasi Vunivalu.
England: Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell, Guy Porter, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Billy Vunipola, Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes (captain), Jonny Hill, Ollie Chessum, Will Stuart, Jamie George, Ellis Genge. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Nick Isiekwe, Jack Willis, Jack van Poortvliet, Will Joseph, Henry Arundell.
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