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Rookie prop is given a Test start

Australia have made wholesale changes, including the selection of a prop who has never started a professional match.

SYDNEY // Australia have made wholesale changes, including the selection of a prop who has never started a professional match, for tomorrow's Test against Italy in Padua. The Australia coach Robbie Deans made eight changes to the starting side that lost to New Zealand in Hong Kong last weekend, giving some of his second-stringers the chance to impress while saving his top players for next week's clash with England at Twickenham.

Deans also included three uncapped players, prop Sekope Kepu, fly-half Quade Cooper and 18-year-old fullback James O'Connor, on his reserves bench. O'Connor would become the second-youngest player to represent the Wallabies if he played. The youngest remains Queensland winger Brian Ford, who was 36 days younger when he made his debut as an 18-year-old against the All Blacks in 1957. Prop Ben Alexander, who has made just two appearances for Australia off the bench and has never started a Super 14 match, was included in the run-on team for the first time.

He was among four changes to the starting pack, which has been the weakest link in Australian rugby for the past few years. Flanker Phil Waugh, prop Matt Dunning and lock Hugh McMeniman were also called up, leaving No 8 Richard Brown, lock Mark Chisholm and hooker Stephen Moore as the only survivors from Hong Kong. The backline also featured four changes. Inside centre Timana Tahu joins the skipper Stirling Mortlock in the midfield while wings Lachie Turner and Digby Ioane both earned recalls.

Utility back Berrick Barnes, making his first run-on appearance since returning from injury, was picked at fly-half despite normally playing at inside centre. "We've got a demanding schedule ahead of us on this tour so sharing the work load is essential. We selected the touring party with that in mind," Deans said in a statement. * Reuters

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