Qantas Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has confirmed his side for their opening Test of 2019 against South Africa, with Isi Naisarani named for his debut.
The Melbourne Rebels backrower is set to become Wallaby 926 when he runs out at Emirates Airline Park in the number 8 jersey. Originally from Fiji, Naisarani moved to Australia in 2014 where he starred in Brisbane Premier Rugby, the National Rugby Championship and in Vodafone Super Rugby for the Western Force, Brumbies and now the Melbourne Rebels.
It could also be a first Test cap for Waratahs young gun Harry Johnson-Holmes, who only joined the squad in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening local time. The prop was a late call-up following injuries to Scott Sio and Tom Robertson at training. Johnson-Holmes is now in line to be Wallaby 927, should he come off the bench against South Africa.
The clash will mark a return to the Test arena for fellow prop James Slipper - 959 days after his last International against England at Twickenham on the 2016 Spring Tour.
It’s been an even longer wait between Test caps for Nic White with Saturday’s Test to be almost four years since he last played in a Wallabies jersey. White’s last start came against New Zealand at Eden Park in August 2015.
Tevita Kuridrani will partner Samu Kerevi in the centres, resuming their combination for the first time since November 2017, when they faced Scotland in Edinburgh.
Qantas Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said: “This is an opportunity for our team. We really want to begin building momentum to take us towards our goals in 2019.
“The players are impatient to play at Ellis Park where our Wallabies haven’t had an opportunity to play for quite a while.
“We know we go into the game as heavy underdogs but most of the players have had a touch over three great weeks of training to prepare, so really they just can’t wait to get out and get into the battle.
“I’m feeling a lot belief and commitment from the people in this Wallaby squad. They’ve all invested a tonne of effort into our preparation and I know the 23 men selected to represent us all on Saturday will do us proud,” Cheika said.
The Wallabies haven’t played South Africa in Johannesburg since a 53-8 defeat in 2008 and haven’t won at the now renamed Ellis Park since 1963.
Australia are the current holders of the Mandela Challenge Plate after having retained the trophy in 2018 with both sides enjoying one win each on home soil.
Christian Lealiifano (shoulder), Scott Sio (adductor), Tom Robertson (ankle) and Allan Alaalatoa (foot) were not considered for selection due to injury.
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All Qantas Wallabies matches will also be screened LIVE and free in HD on TEN and WIN Network and streaming on tenplay.com.au.
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Qantas Wallabies team to play South Africa at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg on Saturday 20 July, 5.05pm local (1.05am AEST)
1. James Slipper (86 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (7 Tests)
3. Sekope Kepu (103 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (17 Tests)
5. Rory Arnold (19 Tests)
6. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (11 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (91 Tests)
8. Isi Naisarani*
9. Nic White (22 Tests)
10. Bernard Foley (68 Tests)
11. Reece Hodge (33 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (vc) (25 Tests)
13. Tevita Kuridrani (58 Tests)
14. Dane Haylett-Petty (30 Tests)
15. Tom Banks (3 Tests)
16. Jordan Uelese (2 Tests)
17. Harry Johnson-Holmes*
18. Taniela Tupou (11 Tests)
19. Rob Simmons (94 Tests)
20. Jack Dempsey (10 Tests)
21. Will Genia (100 Tests)
22. Matt To’omua (42 Tests)
23. Kurtley Beale (83 Tests)
2019 Mitsubishi Estate Rugby Championship
South Africa v Qantas Wallabies at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sunday 21 July at 1.05am AEST
Qantas Wallabies v Argentina at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Saturday 27 July at 7.45pm AEST
Qantas Wallabies v New Zealand at Optus Stadium, Perth, Saturday 10 August at 7.45pm AEST
2019 Mitsubishi Estate Bledisloe Cup (second Test)
New Zealand v Qantas Wallabies at Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday 17 August at 5.35pm AEST
Qantas Wallabies v Samoa at Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta, Saturday 7 September at 7.30pm AEST