WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia centre Samu Kerevi has paid the price for a poor performance in their Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand by being dropped for the return match in Dunedin.
Coach Michael Cheika resisted the urge to overhaul his team despite the 54-34 hammering in Sydney last Saturday, making only three changes to the starting line-up from the side that shipped eight tries in the first 48 minutes.
Kerevi makes way for Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre, as he did in the second half last week, while Rory Arnold drops to the bench to allow Rob Simmons to replace him in the second row alongside Adam Coleman.
Cheika said Kerevi was disappointed but suggested he might have been rushed back to soon after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with ankle and pectoral problems.
“You see how highly we rate Samu by putting him straight in after a bit of a layoff after Super Rugby with injuries, and maybe we did him a bit of a disservice by picking him too soon,” Cheika told reporters in Christchurch on Thursday.
“Maybe he needed another week or two of preparation to get exactly right to play his best rugby.”
In the third change, Dane Haylett-Petty returns on the wing after recovering from a bicep injury to replace Curtis Rona, who scored a try on debut last week as the Wallabies ran in four unanswered tries in an improved second-half performance.
Other than bracketing Jack Dempsey with fellow loose forward Lopeti Timani on the bench pending Friday’s captain’s run, Cheika has kept intact the side that was so badly outclassed by the world champions in the first half last week.
In the back row, Ned Hanigan gets another chance to prove himself at blindside after an anonymous performance in the Rugby Championship opener with flanker Sean McMahon again picked out of position at number eight.
Haylett-Petty’s return for his 18th start was expected after he made a bright start to his test career last year and he will play on the right wing on Saturday with Henry Speight switching to the left.
“For a guy who is still quite young in his international career he’s certainly put a mark on the game and he would have been selected last week if he was fit,” Cheika added.
“He’s got good back-field work and now that he’s back and fit I think it was an easy selection.”
Team: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Dane Haylett-Petty, 13-Tevita Kuridrani, 12-Kurtley Beale, 11-Henry Speight, 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Will Genia, 8-Sean McMahon, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Ned Hanigan, 5-Adam Coleman, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Allan Alaalatoa,2-Stephen Moore, 1-Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16-Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17-Tom Robertson,18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Rory Arnold, 20-Lopeti Timani/Jack Dempsey, 21-Nick Phipps, 22-Reece Hodge, 23-Curtis Rona.
Writing by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Peter Rutherford