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Gordon, Lolesio new halves combo for Wallabies vs France

July 5, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2020, file photo, Australia's Noah Lolesio, left, runs past New Zealand's Richie Mo'unga, to score his team's first try during their Bledisloe rugby test at Stadium Australia, in Sydney. Lolesio and Jake Gordon will form a new Wallabies halves combination in the first of three test matches against France on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2020, file photo, Australia's Noah Lolesio, left, runs past New Zealand's Richie Mo'unga, to score his team's first try during their Bledisloe rugby test at Stadium Australia, in Sydney. Lolesio and Jake Gordon will form a new Wallabies halves combination in the first of three test matches against France on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Jake Gordon and Noah Lolesio will form a new Wallabies halves combination in the first of three test matches against France on Wednesday.

Gordon overcame a knee injury to edge Tate McDermott for the vacant halfback jersey with regular starter Nic White sidelined. And with James O’Connor also injured, Lolesio gets his second start after making his test debut at flyhalf last year against the All Blacks when Australia was beaten 43-5.

Gordon, the New South Wales Waratahs captain, injured his knee in the penultimate game of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, putting him in doubt for the France series.

Veteran Matt Toomua will line up with 21-year-old Lolesio after recovering from a neck injury, joining Hunter Paisami in the centers.

The front row has James Slipper and Allan Alaalatoa as the starting props, with Brandon Paenga-Amosa named at hooker. Lock Matt Philip returns after his stint playing in France and will partner Lukhan Salakaia-Loto while Rob Valetini gets his first test start at blindside flanker.

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Captain Michael Hooper and No. 8 Harry Wilson complete the back row.

Australia coach Dave Rennie named four potential Wallabies debutants on the bench — hooker Lachlan Lonergan, lock Darcy Swain, center Len Ikitau and utility back Andrew Kellaway.

Rennie said Monday he felt Lolesio had improved since his test debut in the mismatch against the All Blacks.

“He’s a confident kid, he’s prepared to boss the big boys around, and he’s got a full Super season behind him now,” Rennie told Australian Associated Press. “He’s played a lot of footy and has played really well. His ability to play flat and on top of defenses and his kicking game . . . it was a pretty easy choice.”

Rennie said the team has had a good preparation for the France series, which will be completed in just 11 days with the second test in Melbourne on July 13 before the final test in Brisbane again on July 17.

“The whole squad has been training really hard over the past three weeks to prepare for what’s going to be an exciting, tough series against the French,” Rennie said.

France, meanwhile, spent two weeks in COVID-19-forced quarantine at a Sydney hotel preparing for the first test and didn’t plan to arrive in Brisbane until Tuesday night. The squad has 21 uncapped players and is missing star halves Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack.

Former French captain and now general manager Raphael Ibanez said it’s been a tough preparation which included having to construct their own gym in the hotel parking lot.

“Rugby Australia did their best to welcome us but on the rugby side, there’s no doubt it’s impacted preparation,” Ibanez said. “They’ll maybe get a quick view of the stadium . . . it’s not really (like anything I’ve encountered before) but as I said to the players, you have to expect anything and be ready for anything.”

France has already played five tests this year in the Six Nations tournament, winning three times and finishing second behind Wales.

“Our domestic (Top 14) season was probably the longest ever and we didn’t have any other option than leaving some key players at home,” he said of the side in Australia. “The goal now is to turn this issue into an opportunity but we believe we have enough talent to match the best.”

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Australia: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Hunter Paisami, Matt Toomua, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Jake Gordon, Harry Wilson, Michael Hooper (captain), Rob Valetini, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Matt Philip, Allan Alaalatoa, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, James Slipper. Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Darcy Swain, Isi Naisarani, Tate McDermott, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kellaway.

France: to be named.

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