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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Rugby Championship: Curtis Rona to make Wallabies debut against All Blacks

Kurtley Beale to line up at inside centre in first Bledisloe Cup match of the year with Israel Folau at fullback

Australia's Kurtley Beale, left, and Israel Folau pose for a photograph in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 16 August 2017. The Wallabies will host the New Zealand All Blacks in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test series on 19 August. Paul Miller / EPA
Australia's Kurtley Beale, left, and Israel Folau pose for a photograph in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 16 August 2017. The Wallabies will host the New Zealand All Blacks in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test series on 19 August. Paul Miller / EPA

Curtis Rona will make his debut and Kurtley Beale returns for Australia in the team named Thursday to face New Zealand in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney this weekend.

Rona, the former National Rugby League winger, has replaced injured Western Force teammate Dane Haylett-Petty (bicep) and will make his first international appearance on the left wing, while Beale will play at inside centre.

The New Zealand-born Rona, 25, spent just one game on the wing for the Force this season and played at outside centre for the rest of the Super Rugby campaign.

Coach Michael Cheika believes Rona's aerial skills honed in rugby league will negate the world champions' intentions to target the Test rookie.

"He's run there pretty much since we got into camp and he's looked comfortable there and he's got excellent chat from the outside in," Cheika told reporters.

"He's played on the big stage before in rugby league, so I'm sure he'll handle it, no problem.

"Curtis has been picked because he's a high quality player. He's really shown a lot of enthusiasm, aggression, hungry to be involved in everything."

Rona added: "They can say whatever they want but I know myself what I'm capable of doing and I'm feeling really confident coming into this game.

"I think I've done enough to be able to master taking the ball in the air and I'm looking forward to that."

It is playmaker Beale's first international for the Wallabies since the 2015 World Cup final against the All Blacks in London.

The 60-capped utility back will start a Test with a backline featuring fly-half Bernard Foley and fullback Israel Folau for the first time.

Beale, who now plays for London Wasps, has an extraordinary record against the All Blacks in Australia with two wins, two draws and a single defeat in five Tests since 2011.

Rona's inclusion is one of five changes, among them Sean McMahon, Samu Kerevi and Henry Speight, to the starting XV that beat Italy 40-27 in Brisbane in June.

Beale will partner Queensland Reds' Kerevi in the centres after Kerevi missed the June home Test Series with an ankle injury.

McMahon also returns to the Test arena at No 8 after a wrist injury sidelined him during the mid-year internationals.

The All Blacks have dominated the Wallabies, losing only three of their last 29 trans-Tasman encounters and have held the Bledisloe Cup, symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy, since 2003.

The Wallabies will be captained by openside flanker Michael Hooper following Stephen Moore's decision to step down after announcing he will retire from internationals at the end of this year.

Opening Rugby Championship fixtures:Games can be watched on OSN Sports
Saturday: Australia v New Zealand, Sydney, 1pm (UAE)
Sunday: South Africa v Argentina, Port Elizabeth, 11pm (UAE)