Australia: Ben Donaldson to start at fly-half against Wales as Dave Rennie rings the changes

David Skippers
Ben Donaldson Wallabies training 2022 - PA.jpg

Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie has named rookie Ben Donaldson to start at fly-half in their Autumn Nations Series Test against Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

Donaldson will form a half-back combination with Waratahs team-mate Jake Gordon as part of a much-changed Australia side following several injuries in the camp.

Reece Hodge starts at inside centre

In other another backline tweak, Reece Hodge comes in to replace the injured Hunter Paisami at inside centre, while Rennie has opted to keep Noah Lolesio on the replacements bench.

“We want to learn a bit more about (Ben Donaldson),” Rennie said.

“He only got five minutes against Italy. Initially, we were thinking of getting him on the field early and we scored late, Noah (Lolesio) kicks the conversion from the sideline and we’re down by three. When we’re down by six with five to go, we threw him out there to see what he can do.

“He’s trained really well, has got a good skill set and he’s developing the voice and the ability to boss people around. We need to see plenty of that and we’ve got familiarity with Jake playing on his inside and a fair bit of experience with (Reece) Hodge on his outside.

“We want to find out about Ben and his versatility helps in that he can play 15, certainly quick enough to play back there. We’ve got Noah (Lolesio) with a fair bit of experience to come on late.”

Rennie only has 25 fit players available for selection which forced him into a plethora of changes following their loss to Ireland, with Darcy Swain and Matt Gibbon the squad members not named in the matchday 23.

At hooker, Folau Fainga’a comes into the starting line-up for Dave Porecki (concussion), while Fraser McReight and Langi Gleeson form a new-look back-row with Jed Holloway.

Hodge partners Len Ikitau in midfield and Tom Wright gets the nod at full-back ahead of Jordan Petaia, who starts on the wing.

“I think Tom Wright’s voice is massive,” Rennie added.

“What people don’t see with Tom is the yardage off the ball, his work ethic to swing both sides, provide an extra hand and then off it’s not on, work to the other side, he’s really smart so he’ll organise guys in front of him and that’s an area Jordy needs to make some shifts.

“(Petaia) was excellent when he came on last week, the best we’ve seen him this year but he’s more suited to the wing for us but he can move back there.”

Sam Talakai in line for Test debut

Meanwhile, tighthead prop Sam Talakai is in line to make his Test debut via the bench with Taniela Tupou (Achilles) set to be sidelined for a lengthy period, while Tom Robertson remains as the loosehead replacement.

They are joined by the likes of Ned Hanigan, Jock Campbell and Lachlan Lonergan as the Wallabies look to end their tour on a positive note.

Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ned Hanigan, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Noah Lolesio, 23 Jock Campbell

Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

READ MORE: Australia: Len Ikitau says players must take responsibility for Wallabies’ poor form