James O’Connor has been recalled as the Wallabies’ No 10 for Australia’s final Test of the year on Saturday night against Argentina after knee and foot injuries sidelined him from their past three Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations outings.
The 30-year-old will make his comeback as chief playmaker against the Pumas, with the versatile Reece Hodge moving to fullback at the expense of Tom Banks, who will come off the bench.
“It’s great to have James back in the team this weekend. He brings a lot of experience to a young group and has been working really hard to get his body right to be able to get back on the field,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said.
Hodge has been a stand-out during his two appearances at five-eighth, man of the match in the Wallabies’ upset win over the All Blacks in Brisbane and going within a whisker of booting Australia to victory over the Pumas in their last-start draw.
But Rennie seemingly sees the 26-year-old as more of a stop-gap than permanent No 10, with O’Connor handed back the keys to the Wallabies backline on Thursday.
In another tick of approval, though, Hodge will start as fullback, meaning he has played every position in the Australian backline except halfback, after Banks failed to produce his dynamic best in his three Tests starts this campaign.
“Reece has done a great job for us at No 10 over the past two games and we’re confident he’ll put in another good performance for us on Saturday night from fullback,” Rennie said.
“The side has worked really hard over the last 10 weeks or so and built a strong connection and I know as a full squad we are really keen to put together a performance that reflects that.”
In the only other change to the run-on XV, Allan Alaalatoa will start at tighthead prop, relegating Taniela Tupou to the bench. Like O’Connor, lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto returns after missing the last two Tests with an ankle injury, joining Rob Valetini as other forward cover.
Midfielder Irae Simone has forced his way onto the bench as he aims for a second appearance in the Wallabies jersey.
The All Blacks have one hand and four fingers on the Tri Nations trophy, with the Wallabies needing to beat the Pumas by 101 points to snatch it away. It is a mathematical possibility for the Wallabies that surely will not happen at Bankwest Stadium.
Australia: 15-Reece Hodge, 14-Tom Wright, 13-Jordan Petaia, 12-Hunter Paisami, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-James O’Connor, 9-Nic White, 8-Harry Wilson, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Ned Hanigan, 5-Matt Philip, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1-Scott Sio. Replacements: 16-Folau Fainga’a, 17-Angus Bell, 18-Taniela Tupou, 19-Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 20-Rob Valetini, 21-Jake Gordon, 22-Irae Simone, 23-Tom Banks.