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New Wallabies captain and seven debutants named in squad to face Wales
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New Wallabies captain and seven debutants named in squad to face Wales

The Wallabies have named a first-time captain and seven debutants in the squad to take on Wales in the first Test in Sydney as a new era begins under head coach Joe Schmidt. The raft of changes mean that only five Australians – as well as three Welsh starters – remain from the last time the sides met, when Wales thrashed the Wallabies 40-6 during last year’s Rugby World Cup.

The new-look Australian squad will have their seventh captain in the past year with Liam Wright named to lead Schmidt’s first Test team since replacing Eddie Jones as coach. The blindside flanker has captained the Queensland Reds since 2020 and will lead his country for the first time in the Wallabies’ opening Test of the year on Saturday night.

Wright follows Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Will Skelton, Tate McDermott and Dave Porecki in skippering the Wallabies in the past two seasons. The 26-year-old joins Reds teammate Fraser McReight and the Brumbies’ reigning John Eales medallist Rob Valetini in the starting back row.

“Liam, he’s really understated. He’s a leader in a Super Rugby team anyway, and so he’s got that leadership experience,” Schmidt said. “He was identified by the players as a natural leader in the group. He’s a lineout caller, so he already has a responsibility in the team.”

But asked if he viewed Wright as a long-term captain, Schmidt said: “At the moment, everything’s pretty short-term, including our preparation. For this weekend, it was a discussion around who’s likely to stay on for a long period of time, who already has a responsibility in the team.”

Test centurion James Slipper will line up for his 135th appearance in the gold jersey, with hooker Matt Faessler earning his first Wallabies start alongside Taniela Tupou who will run on at tighthead prop.

Western Force lock and captain Jeremy Williams and Queensland centre Josh Flook have been named to make their Wallabies debut, both in the starting XV. Williams will partner the returning Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the second row. Salakaia-Loto will play his first Test since 2021 after a stint in the English Premiership with Northampton.

Wales against South Africa in their last match at Twickenham.View image in fullscreen

Hunter Paisami will form a Reds midfield pairing with Flook, while NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon will combine with Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio in the halves at Allianz Stadium. Tom Wright returns to the side at fullback, with Andrew Kellaway and Filipo Daugunu on the wings.

Billy Pollard is set to make his second Test appearance as the substitute hooker, with Alaalatoa and potential debutant Isaac Kailea the finishing props. The 206cm-tall Angus Blyth and the athletic Charlie Cale are two others in line for a potential Wallabies debut, covering the second and back row respectively.

McDermott will provide spark as the substitute scrum-half, with his Reds teammate Tom Lynagh set to become the 12th son of a Wallaby to pull on the gold jersey, following in the footsteps of his World Cup-winning father, Michael. Waratahs winger Dylan Pietsch rounds out the match-day 23, named on the bench for his potential Wallabies debut.

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Wales coach Warren Gatland has also overhauled his team for the first Test. Gloucester back Josh Hathaway will make his Test debut on the wing and Cardiff’s Ben Thomas has been handed the fly-half role.

Thomas makes his first international appearance since 2021 after being preferred to Sam Costelow, with Cardiff colleagues Ellis Bevan and Mason Grady starting alongside him at scrum-half and inside centre. A reshuffled back three from the team beaten by South Africa at Twickenham sees Liam Williams move from wing to full-back.

Wales face a tough task against the Wallabies, having not beaten them Down Under since 1969, losing 11 successive games. “We have had a good week of preparations here in Sydney, and are excited to get out on the field on Saturday,” Gatland said.

“This first Test is going to be a great challenge for us. Test matches are all about fine margins and we know we need to be accurate, keep our discipline and stay in the fight for the full 80 minutes. There is a lot of talent within the Australia squad and we know they will want to come out firing and put in a performance against us.”

Source: theguardian.com