Rennie wields axe as Foley earns call-up

·3-min read

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has turned over almost half of his run-on side ahead of Thursday night's Bledisloe Cup encounter against the All Blacks, with halfback Nic White the highest profile casualty.

Rennie made a whopping seven changes to his starting XV for the Marvel Stadium match following the disappointing 24-8 loss to South Africa in Sydney earlier this month.

Bernard Foley returns to the side for the first time since 2019 after young playmaker Noah Lolesio was ruled out with concussion.

Rennie's hand was also forced by centre Hunter Paisami's concussion and Rory Arnold's return to Japan to be present for the birth of his child.

But with both the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup up for grabs over the next fortnight, Rennie has rolled the dice with a series of unforced changes.

His biggest decision was handing 14-Test halfback Jake Gordon a start in place of White, giving the Wallabies a completely new-look 9-10 combination.

"I think Whitey wasn't at his best last week," Rennie said.

"He's started every Test this year and had a massive load, and I thought Jake was excellent off the bench last week."

Flanker Fraser McReight was axed in favour of Pete Samu, while Jed Holloway moves from the No.6 jersey to lock for the first time in his Test career.

David Porecki replaces Folau Fainga'a at hooker, with flanker Rob Leota another new face in the starting line-up.

Andrew Kellaway has been named at fullback in place of Reece Hodge, while Lalakai Foketi fills the void left by the concussed Paisami.

Powerful prop Taniela Tupou is expected to return from a calf injury next week.

Rennie said some of his changes were based around his team's need to improve in the physical stakes.

"It's got a bit to do with collisions," Rennie said.

"I think Fraser (McReight) has been excellent, especially from a continuity point of view. In the two Tests we've gone forward, he's played a big hand ... but maybe not the same impact defensively in the contact areas where we've struggled.

"Pete Samu -we've toyed with starting him a number of times. He's been excellent for us off the bench and delivers every time."

Foley has spent the past three years playing in Japan, departing the international scene after the 2019 World Cup.

But Rennie was keen to tap into his experience after losing fellow veteran Quade Cooper to a ruptured Achilles tendon and with James O'Connor out of favour and now injured again.

Foley joined the squad before the two Rugby Championship Tests - which resulted in a win and a loss - focusing on getting up to speed with the team machinations and sharpening his skills.

The 32-year-old, who has played 71 Tests, is key to the Wallabies' chances of victory against their arch enemy.

The Wallabies are looking to snap a 19-year Bledisloe Cup drought.

The Thursday night game is the first midweek trans-Tasman fixture since 1994, when Australia beat the All Blacks via George Gregan's famous try-saving tackle on Jeff Wilson.

WALLABIES SQUAD

Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Lalakai Foketi, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Jed Holloway, Allan Alaalatoa, David Porecki, James Slipper (capt). Reserves: Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Pone Fa'amausili, Darcy Swain, Fraser McReight, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.