Rugby-Championship

Naisarani starts for Australia in Rugby Championship opener

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has named his team to play South Africa’s Springboks in the first test of the 2019 Rugby Championship with Isi Naisarani named for his debut.

The Melbourne Rebels backrower is set to become Wallaby 926 when he runs out at Emirates Airlines Park in the number 8 jersey.

Originally from Fiji, Naisarani moved to Australia in 2014 where he starred in Brisbane Premier Rugby, the National Rugby Championship and in Vodafone Super Rugby for the Western Force, Brumbies and now the Melbourne Rebels.

It could also be a first Test cap for Waratahs young gun Harry Johnson-Holmes, who only joined the squad in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening local time. The prop was a late call-up following injuries to Scott Sio and Tom Robertson at training. Johnson-Holmes is now in line to be Wallaby 927, should he come off the bench against South Africa.

The clash will mark a return to the Test arena for fellow prop James Slipper – 959 days after his last International against England at Twickenham on the 2016 Spring Tour.

It’s been an even longer wait between Test caps for Nic White with Saturday’s Test to be almost four years since he last played in a Wallabies jersey. White’s last start came against New Zealand at Eden Park in August 2015.

Tevita Kuridrani will partner Samu Kerevi in the centres, resuming their combination for the first time since November 2017, when they faced Scotland in Edinburgh.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said: “This is an opportunity for our team. We really want to begin building momentum to take us towards our goals in 2019.

“The players are impatient to play at Ellis Park where our Wallabies haven’t had an opportunity to play for quite a while.

“We know we go into the game as heavy underdogs but most of the players have had a touch over three great weeks of training to prepare, so really they just can’t wait to get out and get into the battle.

“I’m feeling a lot of belief and commitment from the people in this Wallaby squad. They’ve all invested a ton of effort into our preparation and I know the 23 men selected to represent us all on Saturday will do us proud,” Cheika said.

The Wallabies haven’t played South Africa in Johannesburg since a 53-8 defeat in 2008 and haven’t won at the now renamed Ellis Park since 1963.

Australia are the current holders of the Mandela Challenge Plate after having retained the trophy in 2018 with both sides enjoying one win each on home soil.

Christian Lealiifano (shoulder), Scott Sio (adductor), Tom Robertson (ankle) and Allan Alaalatoa (foot) were not considered for selection due to injury.

Australia

15 Tom Banks , 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper

Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Kurtley Beale

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