ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (AP) – Reece Hodge has been named at fullback for the Wallabies in anticipation of an aerial assault from South Africa in their Rugby Championship match at Adelaide Oval tomorrow.
The 57-test veteran replaces Tom Wright in the number 15 jersey and Noah Lolesio replaces James O’Connor at flyhalf in two of the six changes made by head coach Dave Rennie in the wake of a 48-17 loss to Argentina in San Juan two weeks ago.
Australia’s back three was badly exposed by the Pumas’ contestable kicking game, with Hodges’ selection designed to counter anything similar from the World Cup champion Springboks.
“South Africa’s got a good kicking game and they will back their (defense), so we’ve got to make sure we can win that air battle,” Rennie said on Thursday. “Hodge at the back gives us a big kicking game, which we reckon will be important.
“His ability to identify space and find grass in behind them with his booming boot is a big part of the reason we picked him. We certainly know what’s coming and we’re going to have to get in front of that, bring a lot of physicality and kick smart.”
Elevated from the Australia A squad after a season-ending injury to Tom Banks, Hodge started at fullback in the narrow third-test loss to England and came off the bench in the two tests in Argentina.
Wright shifts back to the right wing and Marika Koroibete will be on the left edge.
After returning to Australia early from Argentina for a family bereavement, Allan Alaalatoa will start at tight head in a front row containing Folau Fainga’a at hooker and captain James Slipper, who plays his 120th test, at loosehead.
The loose-forward combination remains unchanged for the third consecutive test with Jed Holloway on the blindside flank, Fraser McReight on the openside and Rob Valetini at number 8.
Nic White will partner Noah Lolesio in the halves.
“It’s great to have a number of experienced players back in the mix this weekend,” Rennie said.
“We understand that respect is earned daily and we get an opportunity to earn it against the current world champions.
“It’s really motivating to be back at home in front of our supporters, especially in Adelaide, a place we haven’t played at in 18 years.”
The Wallabies are unbeaten in their last seven tests at home against the Springboks, who haven’t won in Australia since 2013.