TOKYO (Reuters) - Christian Lealiifano is back at flyhalf and teenager Jordan Petaia will make his Wallabies debut on the wing after coach Michael Cheika overhauled his team for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Uruguay.
The Wallabies will be looking to get back to winning ways against the South Americans in Oita after their agonising 29-25 loss to Wales in Tokyo last weekend.
Cheika used the pool game against Uruguay at the last World Cup as a chance to give his squad players a run out and so the 13 changes were to be expected after he fielded his strongest side against the Welsh.
Lealiifano returns at flyhalf with Nic White at scrumhalf, reuniting the halfback pairing that started Australia’s opening match against Fiji, where they came from behind to win.
It means Bernard Foley, who started at 10 against Wales, misses out completely in the 23-man squad.
“Bernard - I think he struggled a little bit on the weekend. No doubt about that,” said Cheika.
“So, Bernard is working hard on getting himself back into the team. He has been training hard.”
“He did some good things at the weekend, something he would want to improve on.”
Teenaged Queensland Reds centre Petaia was a surprise inclusion in the World Cup squad but would have made his test debut last year against Italy had he not suffered an injury in the run-up to the match.
Another hamstring injury in the pre-tournament training camp dashed his hopes of a debut in the warm-up match against Samoa, but he is now set to become Australia’s youngest World Cup player and first test player born this century.
“I think he has got a lot of talent, Jordan, and we will see it for the first time,” said Cheika.
“He is just starting out, so we will let him get into the flow and see how he feels.”
“He has a couple of very experienced campaigners next to him in Dane (Haylett-Petty) and Kurtley (Beale) so he will have plenty of experience around him to talk him through.”
“He is a good young man and a good young player and I am sure he will love it running out there at the weekend.”
Matt To’omua, who came on for Foley at flyhalf against Wales and sparked Australia’s comeback, will win his 50th cap in the centres alongside Tevita Kuridrani.
Australia will be wearing their indigenous strip for the encounter on Saturday.
This will be the third time they have worn the special jersey and To’omua said the team had been learning about its importance from fullback Beale, the only aboriginal player in the squad.
“We are very fortunate at the moment to have Kurtley in the team and he has shared with us quite a lot of stories about what it means and getting recognition for the first people of our country,” said To’omua.
“We have had a chequered history there so to start getting that recognition is quite exciting.”
“Personally, as a player and a supporter of rugby, I am quite proud that rugby right at the forefront of that.”
Indigenous players are heavily represented in rugby league and Australian Rules football but only 14 have played for the Wallabies in the team’s 120-year history.
Michael Hooper will captain the side from openside flanker with David Pocock making way for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto on the other side of the back and starting on the bench.
Australia beat Uruguay 65-3 at Villa Park in 2015 with To’omua among the try-scorers but Los Teros have already shown they will be a tougher prospect in this tournament, having upset Fiji in their opener.
Team: 15-Kurtley Beale, 14-Dane Haylett-Petty, 13-Tevita Kuridrani, 12-Matt To’omua, 11-Jordan Petaia, 10-Christian Lealiifano, 9-Nic White, 8-Jack Dempsey, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5-Adam Coleman, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Folau Fainga’a, 1-James Slipper
Replacements: 16-Jordan Uelese, 17-Sekope Kepu, 18- Taniela Tupou, 19-Rory Arnold, 20-David Pocock, 21-Will Genia, 22-James O’Connor, 23-Adam Ashley-Cooper
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Jack Tarrant, editing by Darren Schuettler/Amlan Chakraborty