The Wallabies are looking for their “French connection” – Rory Arnold, Will Skelton and Kurtley Beale – to rip in against Scotland in their return to Test rugby.
Arnold will reignite his World Cup second-row partnership with Izack Rodda in the Murrayfield Test on Monday (AEDT) while Beale and Skelton, who has not played for Australia since 2016, will start on the bench.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said the recalled France-based trio had made a “seamless” return to the playing group ahead of the Edinburgh clash.
“They’re very passionate – desperate to play,” said Rennie. “We talked to them a lot about how we didn’t want them to come in and and just feel their way and be part of the group … we want them to come and contribute immediately.”
Rennie said that Arnold’s history with forwards coach Dan McKellar had helped fast-track him into the team while he felt 140kg fellow lock Skelton could be a “beast” off the bench.
Beale, who was a late call-up to the squad following Quade Cooper’s mid-tour withdrawal, impressed with his passion and communication at training.
“He’s a really good communicator – he looks sharp and he’s trained well,” Rennie said of 92-Test veteran Beale. “He’s realised it’s a great opportunity – he probably thought his Wallabies dream was over and so it’s exciting.”
Rennie said the squad had moved on quickly from the disappointment of losing Japan-based trio Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon, who all opted to remain with their clubs.
“I haven’t heard anyone in the group talk about the boys staying in Japan, so we’ve welcomed the French connection and they’ve contributed really well,” he said.
With Cooper withdrawing from the tour, James O’Connor will wear the No 10 jersey for the first time this year, playing his first Test in the UK in 10 years. Reece Hodge’s pectoral injury means Andrew Kellaway earns his first fullback starting role.
Up front, tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa returns to the starting side while the midfield is unchanged from the one that defeated Japan a fortnight ago, with Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau in the centres.
Hard-running NSW Waratahs centre Izaia Perese is in line to make his Test debut after being included among the reserves.
Rennie spent four years coaching in Glasgow before taking up the Wallabies post and has fond memories of his time in Scotland.
The Wallabies’ memories may not be so fond after being thumped 53-24 in their last Test at Murrayfield in 2017, which ended a three-game winning streak.
Rennie felt the Wallabies, under then coach Michael Cheika, underestimated the Scots on that occasion and he wouldn’t make the same mistake.
“They have obviously got a forward pack that can be hugely competitive, very good pace, tackle. They’ve got a strong defensive game and probably kick a little bit more than they were.
“Players like Finn Russell, Ali Price and Stuart Hogg have been around for a long time now so it gives them strike power and experience. We watched a lot of their footy recently, looked at all their Six Nations games and I thought they had a really strong tournament.
“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for them.”
Wallabies: Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, James O’Connor, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Rob Leota, Izack Rodda, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: Connal McInerney, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Will Skelton, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Kurtley Beale, Izaia Perese.