James O’Connor has been recalled at flyhalf after overcoming knee and foot injuries to take his place in the starting lineup for Australia's last rugby test match of the season against Argentina.
The 30-year-old O'Çonnor will make his comeback on Saturday in Sydney against a Pumas squad rocked this week by news of Pablo Matera being stripped of his captaincy and suspended along with two teammates over historic social media posts which have been deemed “discriminatory and xenophobic.”
To make way for O'Çonnor's return at No. 10, Reece Hodge will move to fullback and Tom Banks has been relegated to 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 was a standout during his two appearances at flyhalf, voted player-of-the-match in the Wallabies’ Tri-Nations upset win over the All Blacks in Brisbane and nearly booting Australia to victory over the Pumas in their last-match draw.
Argentina was scheduled to name its team later Thursday, but a number of changes will be needed.
The sanctions against Matera were announced after a backlash in Argentina for the low-key way the team responded to the death last week of soccer great Diego Maradona.
Matera became a national hero when he led the Argentina team to its first-ever win over the All Blacks three weeks ago. Now he, veteran lock Guido Petti and hooker Santiago Socino will miss the Australia match in western Sydney.
New Zealand is all but assured of winning the Tri-Nations trophy.
The All Blacks have 11 competition points and Australia and Argentina each has six points. New Zealand has a points differential of plus 64 and Argentina has minus 28 and Australia is minus 36, so even a bonus-point win by either team would be very unlikely to put them into first place.
Australia: Scott Sio, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Rob Simmons, Matt Philip, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (captain), Harry Wilson, Nic White, James O’Connor, Marika Koroibete, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Tom Wright, Reece Hodge. Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Jake Gordon, Irae Simone, Tom Banks.
Argentina: to be named.
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