Ben Donaldson has been given first crack to push for a spot on next month’s Spring Tour, after the rising playmaker was picked in the No.10 jersey for Australia A in the first of three unofficial tests against a Japan XV in Tokyo.
He was one of a handful of interesting selections, with Jock Campbell selected at fullback while former NRL star Suliasi Vunivalu will also get the chance to push for a Wallabies berth after being selected on the right wing.
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In total, there are eight capped Wallabies in Jason Gilmore’s starting side.
Ned Hanigan makes a return to the starting side, with the experienced Test forward named at blindside flanker.
The Waratah has been out of sight and out of mind in recent years, having spent two seasons in Japan, but the long-locked forward looms as a strong contender to return to the Wallabies, particularly with Lachie Swinton and Rob Leota missing.
Test forwards Cadeyrn Neville and Nick Frost form a strong second-row pairing, with both men lining up against the All Blacks during their heavy 40-14 loss at Eden Park. Ryan Smith provides cover from the bench.
Up front, and it’s an all-Test front-row with Lachie Lonergan packing down between Matt Gibbon and Tom Robertson.
The three unofficial matches have much more significance than meets the eye, particularly on the eve of a Spring Tour.
The World Cup is less than 12 months away and Dave Rennie has just 10 Tests to get his selection right.
With Quade Cooper no sure thing to make next year’s World Cup, the playmaker position is wide open.
While Bernard Foley remains a strong contender to go to his third World Cup, there is hot debate whether the Wallabies should experiment and either back Noah Lolesio in or turn to another option like Donaldson or his Waratahs teammate Tane Edmed.
At least one of Donaldson or Edmed are expected to make the Spring Tour but conceivably both could, with Rennie eager to establish the pecking order with his No.10s.
At the 2019 World Cup, then-Wallabies coach Michael Cheika struggled to work out who his preferred options at 9, 10 and 15 were.
The uncertainty contributed to the Wallabies’ quarter-final exit, which came after they were edged out by Wales in their crunch pool match.
Fullback Campbell also has a huge opportunity, with the Queensland back getting an opportunity ahead of returning Wallaby regular Tom Banks.
Banks, who started against England in the No.15 jersey, has missed the past eight Tests after breaking his arm in Perth.
Meanwhile, Vunivalu will at long last get the chance to impress selectors after largely being ignored during the home international season.
The two-time premiership winner was given just two minutes to prove his worth during the home season, coming off the bench against England in Sydney.
But the explosive winger was otherwise shunned, with Rennie suggesting he would be afforded more opportunities on the Spring Tour.
Wallabies side to take on Japan XV in Tokyo:
1: Matt Gibbon
2: Lachlan Lonergan
3: Tom Robertson
4: Nick Frost
5: Cadeyrn Neville
6: Ned Hanigan
7: Ollie Callan
8: Langi Gleeson
9: Ryan Lonergan (c)
10: Ben Donaldson
11: Filipo Daugunu
12: Bayley Kuenzle
13: Hudson Creighton
14 Suliasi Vunivalu
15: Jock Campbell
16: Billy Pollard
17: Harry Hoopert
18: Archer Holz
19: Ryan Smith
20: Brad Wilkin
21: James Tuttle
22: Isaac Henry
23: Mark Nawaqanitawase