The Australian starting XV to play the British and Irish Lions on Saturday has been leaked 24 hours before Thursday’s scheduled announcement.
It comes a month after a similar situation in which coaches of four of the Australian Super 15 franchises told newspapers of their picks, which were then collated into a Wallaby starting XV.
The leak confirms the suspicion that rugby league convert Israel Folau will make his debut, just five months after he made his first start for the New South Wales Waratahs against the Queesland Reds.
He has been playing full back for the Waratahs but will start on the right wing for the Wallabies. Rugby Union is Folau’s third code after he represented Australia at Rugby League and Greater Western Sydney in the ARL.
Folau will be joined in the back three by fit-again winger Digby Iaone and Berrick Barnes.
Iaone had been a major doubt after undergoing surgery to clean up damaged cartilage in his knee car at the end of last month. Barnes will provide the direction from full-back as he fends off competition from the returning Kurtley Beale, who is expected to start on the bench.
Folau’s ability to break the line and his big boot in his debut season have made him too tempting to ignore for coach Robbie Deans, who is said to have been impressed by his hard work and ability to listen on and off the field.
His partnership on the wing with Iaone has the potential to be devastating.
The inclusion of debutant Christian Lealiifano at inside centre ahead of the more conservative Pat McCabe suggests that Australia will look to fling the ball wide and at pace. The Brumbies man has been in great form this season and will join Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will win his 78th cap, in the centres.
James O’Connor’s inclusion at fly-half confirms the Wallabies intent to run the ball and Lealiifano and Barnes’ inclusions alleviate the pressure on his kicking game. O’Connor will be partnered at half-back by Will Genia. Genia’s battle with Mike Phillips at scrum-half looks like being one of the series’ great match-ups.
In the forwards, Brumbies captain Ben Mowen will make his debut on the blindside, in place of the injured Scott Higginbotham. Michael Hooper, so devastating on Australia’s autumn tour of Europe, once again steps in for David Pocock on the openside. Wycliff Palu will start at No.8.
Kane Douglas will partner captain James Horwill in the second row. Douglas’ inclusion ahead of Rob Simmons provides more weight at the scrum. Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson are named at prop, with Stephen Moore at hooker.
The leak is expected to be confirmed by the Australian Rugby Union tomorrow after the Wallabies trained in this formation during an open training session yesterday.
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