Phil Waugh will return as a starter for the Qantas Wallabies in Saturday’s James Bevan Trophy Rugby Union Test match against Wales at Cardiff. Waugh, who returns to the Millennium Stadium where he led Australia during its 29-29 draw with Wales in 2006, is one of five alterations to the starting combination from that which edged out France 18-13 in Paris last Saturday night.
Ryan Cross is also back, after being a late withdrawal last weekend due to illness; taking the place of the man who stood in for him in the centres at the Stade de France, Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Ashley-Cooper has been bracketed on the bench, with a decision on his involvement to be made later in the week. No 8 Wycliff Palu has been allowed to miss the game after he suffered a shoulder injury in Paris.
The addition of Cross is the only change to the backline which started last weekend, with Drew Mitchell remaining at fullback after his first Test of the year in that position.
Waugh, who starts for the fifth time in 2008 while featuring in his 11th Test of the year, is joined by Western Force No 8 Richard Brown, Brumbies lock Mark Chisholm and Waratahs loosehead prop Benn Robinson among the changes to the starting forward pack.
Further changes on the bench see Adam Freier return from a calf injury, appearing for the first time on the Spring Tour, in place of Tatafu Polota-Nau. Prop Matt Dunning and utility forward Dean Mumm have also been named alongside George Smith.
Winger Lote Tuqiri is also included among the run on reserves, albeit bracketed with Ashley-Cooper, after he was a late call-up to fill that role against France due to the match-day reshuffle caused by the unexpected withdrawal of Cross.
Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the changes reflect both a desire to introduce some fresh legs and impetus at the back end of the Spring Tour, while also providing opportunities for other members of the group.
It should not, he said, be interpreted as a sign of the Wallabies under-estimating Wales, who are the playing through Six Nations champions.
“It’s because of our respect for them that we have looked to inject some freshness into our group,” Deans says.
“It’s been a demanding four weeks, with four very hard Test matches back-to-back. To expect the same guys to carry the load right through is unrealistic, and could easily have compromised us.
“The players we have introduced today have been offering a lot to the group both on the field, when they’ve had their opportunity, but also in training and off the field. They’ll bring the impetus we are going to need.”
Although Wales has been defeated by both South Africa (15-20) and New Zealand (9-29) in recent weeks, Deans doesn’t believe Australia’s Tri-Nations rivals have done his side any favours.
Far from denting confidence, Deans believes there is a lot the Welsh will have brought forward from those matches.
Wales led the All Blacks 9-3 just before halftime last weekend, and Deans says the second half reverse will have only strengthened their resolve to throw everything at their last opportunity in the November Test window.
“They know they’re getting close [to beating one of the Southern Hemisphere teams]. As a result, they’ll be looking to bring forward the confidence they have gained out of those two previous performances, and will see us as an opportunity to complete the package.”
The Wallabies arrived in Cardiff on Sunday, having added France (18-13) to the earlier tour wins attained against Italy (30-20) and England (28-14).
While the tour results in London and Paris especially were historically significant, with last Saturday representing Australia’s first win on French soil in eight years, Deans is adamant that his side won’t be easing up in its efforts.
“This weekend is another Test match, and they are precious opportunities not to be taken for granted,” he says.
“We’ve worked hard on our consistency during this trip. Saturday is another chance to reinforce that habit.”
The match is the Wallabies’ 14th and final Test of the year. Australia is bidding for its 10th win.
The Spring tour then concludes with a specially arranged midweek game against the Barbarians club at London’s Wembley Stadium on the evening of Wednesday 3 December.
That match commemorates the Olympic Gold Medal won by the Wallabies at the 1908 London Games.
The Qantas Wallabies team to play Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday 29 November (2.30pm kick off, local, 1.30am, 30 November, AEST), is:
15. Drew Mitchell (Western Force)
14. Peter Hynes (Queensland Reds)
13. Ryan Cross (Western Force)
12. Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies) captain
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Matt Giteau (Western Force)
9. Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs)
8. Richard Brown (Western Force)
7. Phil Waugh (NSW Waratahs)
6. Hugh McMeniman (Queensland Reds)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)
4. Mark Chisholm (Brumbies)
3. Al Baxter (NSW Waratahs)
2. Stephen Moore (Queensland Reds)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
Run on reserves:
16. Adam Freier (NSW Waratahs)
17. Matt Dunning (NSW Waratahs)
18. Dean Mumm (NSW Waratahs)
19. George Smith (Brumbies)
20. Sam Cordingley (Queensland Reds)
21. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
22. Lote Tuqiri (NSW Waratahs) or Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies)