Rugby: Ravaged Wallabies scrape up rookie backline

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. Photo / Getty
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. Photo / Getty

The injury-ravaged Wallabies will field one of their most inexperienced backlines of the professional era when they play their first Rugby Championship match in Argentina tomorrow.

Among five starting changes, coach Robbie Deans has called in winger Nick Cummins and centre Ben Tapuai for their run-on debuts against the Pumas in Rosario following the loss of stalwart backs Berrick Barnes (punctured lung) and Adam Ashley-Cooper (concussion).

The pair become the 37th and 38th players used by the Wallabies in a nightmare year for injuries, while Cummins is the 11th new cap.

Another test rookie, Mike Harris, will start at fullback with Dom Shipperley dumped to the bench to make way for Cummins, while two changes have been made to the forward pack as Deans attempts to beef up his team. Destructive Waratahs lock Sitaleki Timani will play out of position at blind-side flanker, replacing Dave Dennis, while prop James Slipper will start at the expense of Benn Robinson.

Harris, in just his fourth test, and second run-on start, will take over goalkicking duties from Barnes, while Tapuai is preferred ahead of Reds teammate Anthony Faingaa at outside centre. It leaves the Wallabies backline - missing Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O'Connor, Barnes, and Ashley-Cooper - with a combined total of just 88 caps, of which 60 are held by five-eighths Kurtley Beale and winger Digby Ioane with 30 apiece.

Australia's starting 15 have 345 previous test appearances, 110 of which belong to captain Nathan Sharpe, who will break George Smith's record as the Wallabies' most-capped forward.

After the Wallabies were bashed at the breakdown by the Springboks in their 31-8 loss in Pretoria, Deans has boosted his team's strength and size.

"We've looked to increase our physicality to counter the direct force that will undoubtedly be coming the other way. We know that the Pumas will be coming straight at us and will be looking to profit in the collision in the same way that the Springboks did last week. We have gone for the players we feel are best suited to that approach."

Timani has only ever come off the bench to play at No6 for the Waratahs, but Deans has picked him there to be a chief ball-runner and also keep the size of another 122kg lock, Kane Douglas, in his pack.

Back-rower Scott Higginbotham, with an injured back, was named on a 5-2 bench, while Ioane, with a sore knee, ran freely at training but is yet to have contact work.

In contrast to Australia's disruptions, the Pumas, favourites to win their first match in the expanded tournament, named an unchanged starting team for a third straight test.

Argentina v Aust
Rosario, noon tomorrow

- AAP

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