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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Rugby Championship: Injuries force Australia changes against All Blacks for Bledisloe Cup match

Wallabies revamp front row after Scott Sio failed a fitness test while New Zealand recall captain Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick

Sekope Kepu, centre, starts in the front row for Australia in their Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday. EPA
Sekope Kepu, centre, starts in the front row for Australia in their Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday. EPA

Australia coach Michael Cheika has been forced to revamp his front row and gamble on an untested centres pairing for Saturday's Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.

Australia are desperate for a win at ANZ Stadium in a fixture that doubles as the first Bledisloe Cup Test, but were dealt a blow when loose-head Scott Sio failed a fitness test.

His shoulder problem means Tom Robertson has been drafted into the front row, alongside recalled hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and veteran Sekope Kepu at blindside.

Robertson will be making only his third Test start.

"He [Sio] could do certain things and he couldn't do others and it was 50/50 but I prefer to call it relatively early in the week and give him a chance to get ready for next week and give Tom a chance to prepare well for this week's contest," Cheika said.

"Roberston is only young and coming in on the scene but I think he's had his best year in the pro game by far.

"I think his season with the Waratahs was excellent and in particular in relation to his work ethic."

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Being selected for a Bledisloe match is life-changing for Robertson, who grew up watching the annual trans-Tasman battle.

"I watched the Bledisloe Cup since I was a kid and to actually be starting in one is a dream come true and I just want Saturday to come quickly," he said.

"I think I'm a lot fitter this year and that's allowed me to do more things on the field and not just have more carries and tackles and whatnot, that doesn't really matter, it's the quality of that involvement."

Injuries to Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerivu mean Reece Hodge starts in the No 13 jersey for the first time, combining with Kurtley Beale in the centre.

There was some good news for Cheika, who is seeking to end a 15-year Bledisloe losing run, with captain Michael Hooper and wing Dane Haylett-Petty overcoming injury concerns.

Melbourne Rebels utility back Jack Maddocks is in line to make his international debut after being named on the bench.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read and lock Brodie Retallick return for Saturday's game in Sydney in what will be Sam Whitelock's 100th Test for the world champions.

Read has not played for the national side since last November due to back surgery, while Retallick has not appeared in an All Blacks shirt since last year's Rugby Championship.

Retallick missed the end-of-season tour last year for personal reasons then suffered a broken bone in his chest and did not appear in the June series against France.

Whitelock, who captained the side in the June series, is the eighth player to attain 100 caps for the All Blacks.

"We want to congratulate Sammy on what will be a very special night for him and his family," coach Steve Hansen said in a statement. "We're all very proud of him.

"He's been an outstanding contributor to this team for a long time, both on and off the field. To play one Test for the All Blacks is an achievement in itself, but to be good enough to be selected and play 100 Tests is a remarkable feat."

Centre Jack Goodhue will also play his second test in partnership with Canterbury Crusaders team mate Ryan Crotty, who slots back into his preferred inside centre role to fill the hole left by the injured Sonny Bill Williams.

Beauden Barrett has also been named to start at flyhalf, with Damian McKenzie coming off the bench to cover the pivotal position while Richie Mo'unga has missed the matchday squad.

Mo'unga's possible selection had been the subject of debate in New Zealand after he helped the Crusaders to their ninth Super Rugby title and outplayed Barrett and Springboks flyhalf Elton Jantjies on successive weeks.

Hansen has also rewarded winger Waisake Naholo for his strong form in Super Rugby and opted not to give Jordie Barrett another opportunity at fullback with Ben Smith given the number 15 jersey.

Australia (15-1): Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper (capt), Lukhan Tui; Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda; Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson.

Replacements: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Jack Maddocks.

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