Big names Matt Giteau, Benn Robinson and Will Genia have been demoted to the Wallabies’ bench in sweeping changes for the weekend’s Test against Italy.
Robbie Deans and co-selectors Jim Williams and David Nucifora responded to last week’s 35-18 loss to England – or decided to experiment – in making five changes to the run-on side and nine overall.
While halfback Genia’s relegation can be explained by a rib injury picked up at Twickenham, Giteau and Robinson’s are major shocks.
Inside centre Giteau has not been benched on form since 2006 and loosehead Robinson last sat with the reserves in 2007.
Giteau has been replaced at No.12 by midweek captain Berrick Barnes, Genia by Luke Burgess – despite his tough night in the Tuesday loss to Munster and Robinson by highly rated youngster James Slipper, who will make his run-on debut.
Joining the star trio in dropping to the bench is lock Mark Chisholm, replaced by another run-on debutant, 21-year-old Queenslander Rob Simmons.
One change to the starting line-up was forced by winger James
O’Connor’s dash home to attend a funeral and, as expected, his place has been taken by Lachie Turner.
Three players dropped out of the match squad – bench forwards Huia Edmonds, Dean Mumm and Richard Brown.
Edmonds makes way for the return of hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who will play his first Test of the year after surgery on an ankle.
Chisholm takes Mumm’s spot among the reserves, while the hard-working Matt Hodgson gets a chance from the bench after wholehearted performances in the midweek games at openside flanker.
Brumbies back Pat McCabe will make his Test debut if he takes to the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence on Saturday (0100 Sunday AEDT) after taking Turner’s bench spot.
Five-eighth Quade Cooper survived, despite Deans warning this week he needed to get his defence right or face the axe.
The mass changes fly in the face of Deans’ repeated statements after a run of injuries about the need for team continuity.
He has used matches against lowly-ranked Italy to experiment before, but was also clearly nonplussed by the defensive effort at Twickenham.
Australia’s midfield defence, in particular, has taken a hammering after Cooper missed six tackles against England and Barnes could be seen as part of the solution there.
Giteau has done little wrong but also hasn’t penetrated with his attack, while he relinquished the goalkicking duties before the Test against Wales.
Barnes, Cooper and Kurtley Beale will be the candidates to take on those responsibilities while O’Connor is on leave.
Slipper is largely seen as the future when it comes to righting Australia’s scrum, while a lack of depth among the country’s locks could be behind Simmons’ promotion less than a year out from the World Cup.
Mumm and Brown have paid the price for making little real impact in their cameos from the bench on this tour.
Australia: Kurtley Beale, Lachie Turner, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Quade Cooper, Luke Burgess, Ben McCalman, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom (capt), Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Mark Chisholm, Matt Hodgson, Will Genia, Matt Giteau, Pat McCabe.