Brumbies speedster Tom Banks has been selected to fill the void left by Israel Folau. Picture: AAP Image/Rohan Thomson
Brumbies speedster Tom Banks has been selected to fill the void left by Israel Folau. Picture: AAP Image/Rohan Thomson

Australia Banks on new-look team to tackle Boks

LIFE after Israel Folau has begun in earnest for the Wallabies with the exhilarating Tom Banks selected as Test fullback to make the first mark of World Cup year.

Coach Michael Cheika and his co-selectors have whipped together an exciting blend of proven talent, form calls, calculated recalls and the debut of bullocking No. 8 Isi Naisarani to tackle South Africa early on Sunday morning (AEST).

He even found an emergency reserve prop chomping on a schnitzel at Sydney's Lord Dudley Hotel when whisking uncapped NSW Waratahs redhead Harry Johnson-Holmes onto a Johannesburg flight now three props are down injured.

 

It may not be the starting line-up that the Wallabies take into their fiercest battle at the World Cup in Japan but every player given this first crack can begin to make a booming statement they should be.

Prop James Slipper's 87th Test is one he could not have imagined when suffering depression with a worn, injured body early last year and the spiral into two positive out-of-competition tests for cocaine.

He has rebuilt his life and rugby with the Brumbies and is upbeat, fit and ready. Equally, halfback Nic White will play his first Test in four years and as a starter ahead of Will Genia after being brought back from England club Exeter.

"I don't think you could deny Banks on his form from Super Rugby," said Cheika, who will use Kurtley Beale as a finisher from the bench.

James Slipper earns a recall to the Wallabies. Picture: Mark Evans
James Slipper earns a recall to the Wallabies. Picture: Mark Evans

South African coach Rassie Erasmus said Australia would miss Folau as their "aerial master" at Ellis Park but Cheika was quick to back Banks.

"He's different and very handy and we'll base a lot (of gains) around being a better connected team this year on and off the field," Cheika said.

"I like the way you are never quite sure if he's on the inside or the outside which is him reading the game well and knowing where to pop up in attack.

"He'll cover the terrain in the back field really well too from their kicking threats."

No selection will set the heart racing more than Banks at fullback because it shows that the Wallabies bosses now believe the 25-year-old dasher is ready after three brief Test cameos.

The court-bound Folau was a world-class roadblock to any other fullback's aspirations for most of his six seasons as a Wallaby so this truly is a time for Australia's next long-term fullback to emerge.

Debutant Isi Naisarani adds plenty of bulk to the backrow. Picture: AU Media/Stuart Walmsley
Debutant Isi Naisarani adds plenty of bulk to the backrow. Picture: AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

At his best, Banks slices open defences when the afterburners switch on for runs off inside balls or dashes by flailing arms in the wide channels.

Cheika was delighted the recalls for Slipper and White were so deserved: "'Slips' was a player I really counted on when I was first coach (2014) so this gives me a lot of pleasure and White has shown a lot of intensity to earn this in a really competitive position."

In the backrow, the Wallabies are throwing big boppers Naisarani and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto into action beside flanker-captain Michael Hooper.

Not everyone will be thrilled by uniting two centres with limited passing games like Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani. Against the physical South Africans, their go-forward metres will be huge while Kerevi's all-round skills have grown.

Samu Kerevi will win plenty of metres up the middle with his hard-charging runs. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley
Samu Kerevi will win plenty of metres up the middle with his hard-charging runs. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

The Wallabies are dealing as best they can with a mini-crisis in the front-row with three props Scott Sio (adductor muscle), Tom Robertson (ankle) and now Allan Alaalatoa (foot) down injured.

"We really want to begin building momentum to take us towards our goals in 2019," Cheika said.

"We know we are coming from a long way back and will be heavy underdogs but we've had good weeks of training so we really can't wait to get into the battle."

With David Pocock injured, his route back will be the bench so expect a thorough road test of the bigger backrower many have clamoured for.

There are four legitimate lineout weapons with Brumbies lock Rory Arnold rewarded for his strong Super Rugby form.

Cheika said new signing James O'Connor had impressed at training but "it's a bit too soon.

TEAMS

AUSTRALIA: Tom Banks, Dane Haylett-Petty, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Folau Faingaa, James Slipper. Reserves: Jordan Uelese, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Jack Dempsey, Will Genia, Matt To'omua, Kurtley Beale.

SOUTH AFRICA: Warrick Gelant, S'bu Nkosi, Jesse Kriel, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Rynhardt Elstadt, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth (c), Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka, Vincent Koch, Marvin Orie, Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach, Frans Steyn, Dillyn Leyds.