MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – James O’Connor is poised to play his first test in six years after being named on the Australia bench in a revamped squad for the Rugby Championship clash against Argentina on Saturday.
The 29-year-old former bad boy of Australian rugby, whose last Wallabies contract was torn up in 2013, missed the opening defeat away to South Africa but will hope to push for a Rugby World Cup berth in the match against the Pumas at Lang Park.
Coach Michael Cheika said the versatile back deserved his chance in a rejigged side featuring five changes from the team that started the 35-17 defeat at Ellis Park last week.
“He’s had a good season overseas,” Cheika said of O’Connor, who was released by English club Sale to pursue his World Cup dream.
“He’s integrated himself well with the players . . . He can play many positions so he’s handy in that type of slot as a finisher.
“I’m sure he had that very nervous look on his face when the selection came out and he’s so excited to play . . . I haven’t coached him before, so it’s going to be a great opportunity for me to have a look at him on the field.”
Saturday’s match will feature another Wallabies return in the form of Christian Lealiifano, who replaces Bernard Foley at starting flyhalf for his first test in three years, capping a brave comeback from a cancer battle.
Veteran scrumhalf Will Genia replaces Nic White for his last bow at Lang Park.
Kurtley Beale dislodges Tom Banks at fullback, with winger Dane Haylett-Petty dropped in favor of Marika Koroibete after bombing a try chance against the Springboks.
Utility back Beale, who has played most of his rugby at inside center since the 2015 World Cup, came off the bench against the Springboks and helped spark the Wallabies’ attack despite their convincing defeat.
Beale last started a test at fullback against Scotland at the end of the 2017 season with his opportunities to play in the No. 15 shirt blocked for several years by Israel Folau, who was dismissed earlier this year.
Prop Scott Sio replaces James Slipper in the fifth change to the starting side as the Wallabies seek to fix their scrum after being schooled by the South Africa pack in Johannesburg.
The midfield is under scrutiny after Tevita Kuridrani had a quiet match against the Springboks, but Cheika said the center deserved at least one more shot outside fellow Fiji-born back Samu Kerevi.