Queensland Reds star James O’Connor has been recalled to the Wallabies starting 15 as the replacement for injured flyhalf Quade Cooper in Sunday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in San Juan.
The 63-Test veteran, who hasn’t started a Test this year, has edged out younger Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio in the battle to replace Cooper, who ruptured his Achilles tendon in the Wallabies’ 41-26 win over the Pumas last weekend in Mendoza.
Utility back Reece Hodge, who came on for the injured Cooper last Sunday, has again been named on Australia’s bench.
“`Rabs’ (O’Connor) has got his body in really good shape and he’s been training well the last month,” Hodge said.
“At the moment I’m just happy to play that utility kind of position, and week to week I’ll fit in wherever needed.”
Hodge said Australia’s “next-man-up mentality” has steeled them in the face of further adversity ahead of Sunday’s Test.
Having already lost Cooper, captain Michael Hooper, who returned home for personal reasons, and hooker David Porecki (concussion) on the current tour, the Wallabies have this week suffered the further blows of prop Alan Alaalatoa flying back to Australia for family reasons and centre Hunter Paisami suffering a head knock.
Paisami had just slotted into the No.12 jersey vacated by Samu Kerevi, who is sidelined for several months after suffering a serious knee injury playing for Australia’s Rugby Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games.
Replacing Paisami in the centres is the NSW Waratahs’ Lalakai Foketi, while Reds prop Taniela Tupou will start in the front-row following the departure of Alaalatoa,
In one other change to the Wallabies’ starting team, lock Rory Arnold replaces Matt Philip.
Melbourne Rebels prop Pone Fa’amausili is a chance to make his Test debut off a bench that also includes Reds halfback Tate McDermott.
“Every squad goes through periods where they are unlucky,” Hodge said.
“Some teams get lucky through periods and they win, but the best teams win when they are going through periods that are quite tough.
“We have gone through one over the last two or three months but the fact we are developing great depth in the squad, and the next-man-up mentality we are developing, that will go a long way to hopefully getting performances together that we can be proud of.”
Wallabies team to play Argentina: James Slipper (c), Folau Fainga’a, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Darcy Swain, Jed Holloway, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright. Replacements: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Pone Fa’amausili, Nick Frost, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Irae Simone, Reece Hodge.