Changes don’t weaken Wallabies

Robbie Deans insists the changes he has made for Australia's clash with Italy do not weaken his Wallaby side. [more]

Changes don’t weaken Wallabies

Robbie Deans insists the changes he has made for Australia’s clash with Italy do not weaken his Wallaby side.

Deans has altered four of his starting XV for the third autumn fixture in Florence despite an impressive 20-14 victory over England at Twickenham last time out.

Brett Sheehan comes in for his first Test start instead of Nick Phipps at scrum-half but the three other changes all see experienced stars recalled to the side for the penultimate Test before the Lions head Down Under next summer.

Australia’s most-capped hooker Stephen Moore takes over from Tatafu Polota Nau, Drew Mitchell starts on the left wing ahead of Digby Ioane and Scott Higginbotham replaces Dave Dennis on the blindside flank.

"It's quite the reverse," said Deans when asked if the changes were in anyway disrespectful to the Azzurri.

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"If you look at the men who are coming in, they are all seasoned Test players.

"Drew is one of the most experienced Test wings in Australian history; Stephen Moore is our most capped hooker, while Scott was the Test incumbent in his position until the suspension.

"No one should doubt the impact that Brett Sheehan has made since he has joined the squad, either.

"Nick (Phipps) did well last weekend against England and he is still in a position to contribute this weekend but Brett has worked hard and has earned this opportunity."

Hamstring problems have meant Moore hasn’t started a fixture since the second round of the Rugby Championship back in September but he did feature off the bench in Paris and London earlier this month.

Both he and Higginbotham were first-choice starters at the beginning of the season and now have a chance to remind Deans exactly why that was the case ahead of the December 1 fixture with Wales in Cardiff.

Higginbotham was initially left out of the tour squad after being banned for two weeks for kneeing and headbutting All Black captain Richie McCaw but Rob Simmons’ own suspension saw him called up last week.

Sheehan’s seventh Test cap comes six years after his debut as he attempts to make the most of Will Genia’s continued absence but Mitchell’s own story is arguably even more remarkable.

A second serious ankle injury put the Waratahs wing’s hopes of facing the Lions in serious doubt but fears of a year on the sidelines have since been washed away and Mitchell now has the chance to reclaim his position as his country’s most potent wideman.

Australia (v Italy, Florence, Saturday, 6pm)

Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale, Brett Sheehan, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson

Replacements:Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane

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