Bible-studying hooker wins Wallabies debut

Jim Morton
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RU AUST

Coach Michael Cheika has praised new Wallaby hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa's enthusiasm

Former garbo and theologist Brandon Paenga-Amosa will cap a stunning rugby rise by packing down as Wallabies hooker against Ireland in the opening Test in Brisbane.

Paenga-Amosa, an unheralded Sydney club player 12 months ago, is among three forwards who have bolted from the blue to make their Test debuts on Saturday night against the Six Nations champions.

The Kiwi-born 22-year-old will be joined by Queensland Reds teammate Caleb Timu in Australia's pack, while Melbourne-born Crusader Pete Samu is poised to gain his first cap off the bench.

Paenga-Amosa and former Brisbane NRL player Timu have thrived under Brad Thorn at the Reds. The former All Black had big wraps from the start of the year, even telling Irish coach Joe Schmidt then they were two to watch.

But even Thorn couldn't have predicted how quickly both would rise.

Paenga-Amosa worked as a Sydney rubbish man, studied theology and was a youth worker at Hillsong College before getting his Super Rugby chance on the back of a storming National Rugby Championship last spring for the Western Sydney Rams.

A boom debut season for the Reds and the absences of Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Naua and Jordan Uelese have him lining up beside 91-Test veteran Sekope Kepu and Scott Sio in the Wallabies' front row.

"I'm still pinching myself," he said, admitting to shedding tears on being named.

"It's pretty crazy."

Coach Michael Cheika praised the rookie's consistency and work rate, while also praising his and Timu's attitude and hunger in Wallabies camp.

"They're just so eager," Cheika said. "I don't think I've seen guys come in so eager to get into it."

Timu beat Samu and Lukhan Tui for the No.8 jersey on the back of his destructive ball-running, highlighted by a rampaging try last weekend against NSW.

Cheika admits he needs that menace in attack considering the reunion of captain Michael Hooper and ruck warrior David Pocock in the back row.

"His carrying game has been outstanding," he said.

"When he came back from injury, he jumped into that game against NSW and he made an impact straight away."

The Wallabies have named an otherwise settled starting 15, with Samu Kerevi's form for Queensland unseating incumbent Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre.

Kerevi has struggled in defence in the Test arena but Cheika blames that on the Fijian-born centre reading too much into media doubts over his tackling.

"I don't know why that's in his head ... but if I was worried about that, I would have picked T (Kuridrani)," he said.

Dane Haylett-Petty was preferred to unlucky Rebels teammate Reece Hodge on the left wing, but Hodge's versatility allowed a forwards-heavy 6-2 bench.

Although world No.2-ranked Ireland have won the past two Tests between the sides, they haven't beaten the Wallabies in 39 years on Australian soil.

But Cheika labelled them the best Irish Test team in history who deserve to be favourites.

WALLABIES:

Israel Folau, Marika Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Dane Haylett-Petty, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Caleb Timu, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock, Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Scott Sio.

Res: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Lukhan Tui, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge.