Australia v British & Irish Lions, Brisbane, June 22
Wallabies confirm first Test line-up
June 19, 2013
Christian Leali'ifano (above) will partner Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres © Getty Images
Brumbies pair Ben Mowen and Christian Leali'ifano, alongside New South Wales Waratahs back Israel Folau, will all make their international debuts in Saturday's opening Test of the British & Irish Lions tour at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Leali'ifano, who starts at inside-centre, and Folau, wing, join an exciting backline which sees the Gold Coast-raised James O'Connor team with Queensland scrum-half Will Genia as the halves combination.
The selection reunites a combination which last appeared on the brief Spring Tour which bookended the 2011 season, where the pairing started against both the Barbarians at Twickenham and then Wales in Cardiff, with both matches being won.
Injury has hindered both since, with O'Connor being ruled out of all of last year's Test programme, firstly due to a lacerated liver, and then by a hamstring complaint.
Genia featured until the mid-point of the inaugural Rugby Championship, signing off as the third captain employed by Australia during an extraordinary year when he damaged knee ligaments during the record fifth consecutive success over South Africa, which saw Australia retain the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate in Perth.
Just six of the starting XV from Australia's most recent outing, the 14-12 win over a Warren Gatland-prepared Wales at Cardiff at the end of 2012, will feature in the Tom Richards Cup opener. These players are fullback Berrick Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, No. 8 Wycliff Palu, lock Kane Douglas and the props, Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.
The night will be a massive occasion for all of the Wallabies, but none more so than Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen, who will become the 869th player to represent Australia. He does so in the state where he was raised, in front of a huge contingent of family members.
Starting on the blindside flank, from where he will call the lineouts, Mowen has led the Brumbies with distinction for the last two seasons, steering them to the top of the Australian conference in this year's Super Rugby standings.
Folau has featured at fullback in Super Rugby but moves to the wing for his Test debut, with the 34-times-capped Digby Ioane having recovered from a recent knee operation in time to gain the other wing berth.
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Up front, Douglas has won the race to partner the returning Wallabies skipper James Horwill in the second row, with Horwill's second-row partner at the Reds, Rob Simmons, backing the pair from the replacements bench.
The youngest member of the Wallabies squad, 21-year-old Liam Gill, has also made the bench, where he will act as understudy for Michael Hooper, the team's Player of the Tour from last year's Spring trip to Europe.
Wallabies: Berrick Barnes; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Digby Ioane; James O'Connor, Will Genia, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen; James Horwill (captain), Kane Douglas; Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Saia Fainga'a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Romain Poite (France)
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand