TOKYO (AP) — Samu Kerevi has been ruled out of Australia's rugby test against Japan in Oita on Saturday and will be replaced by Hunter Paisami in one of four changes to the Wallabies' starting XV.
Kerevi was instrumental in Australia’s four-game winning streak in the Rugby Championship that featured back-to-back victories over World Cup-champion South Africa and two against Argentina.
He injured his ankle in Australia’s most recent win over the Pumas and was in doubt for the test against Japan, the first of four on the squad's northern hemisphere tour.
The strong midfield presence of the Japan-based Kerevi and his combination with flyhalf Quade Cooper was influential in turning around the Wallabies’ fortunes following three straight losses to the New Zealand All Blacks.
“While it’s disappointing for Samu not to be able to play in Japan, Hunter started the first five tests this year and is chomping at the bit for another opportunity,” Australia coach Dave Rennie said.
Among the other changes to the starting lineup are Matt Philip returning at lock to partner Izack Rodda, Rob Leota on the blindside flank to join a backrow with captain Michael Hooper and No. 8 Rob Valetini, and Tom Wright returning on the wing.
Japan-based Cooper will start again at No. 10, forming an experienced halves combination with Nic White, while Paisami will join Len Ikitau in a young center combination.
Brumbies hooker Connal McInerney has been selected on the bench and could make his test debut against Japan.
The Wallabies are back in Japan for the first time since the 2019 World Cup, when the home team went unbeaten in a group containing the likes of Ireland and Scotland before losing to eventual champion South Africa in the quarterfinals. Two-time World Cup champion Australia lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up England.
“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for the Brave Blossoms who are now competitive with the best sides in the world," Rennie said. "We’ll need to be at our best.”
Jack Cornelsen carries one of the most famous surnames in Australian rugby but will make his test debut for Japan against the Wallabies on Saturday.
Cornelsen, son of Wallabies Hall of Famer Greg Cornelsen, has been named to start at lock in the Japan lineup named Thursday by head coach Jamie Joseph.
After being overlooked for a Super Rugby contract in Queensland, Cornelsen’s career was revived when he joined the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan under former Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans. He will make his test debut Saturday alongside fellow Australian and Wild Knights teammate Ben Gunter who has been named at blindside flanker.
Cornelsen told the Australian Associated Press this week he hadn’t imagined as a young player that when he made his first test appearance it would be against Australia.
“Growing up it wasn’t the path I imagined that I’d have taken but how quickly things can change,” Jack Cornelsen said. “I’m obviously really grateful for the position I’m in now and it’s not a position I would have been happening a few years ago.”
COVID-19 border restrictions mean his father and mother can’t be present for his debut. But Cornelsen said they will be watching at home “with some excitement as well, probably more nervous than me.
“Dad’s always been supportive of the path I’ve gone on now. He’s backed the decision to come over here and hopefully he’ll be wearing (Japan's) red and white on the weekend.”
South Africa-born Pieter Labuschagne will captain Japan from flanker while Michael Leitch, Japan’s captain at the 2019 World Cup, will start on the bench.
Joseph said Leitch needs time “to focus purely on his rugby” and relieving him of the captaincy will “give him a break from the responsibility of leading the team."
Australia: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Andrew Kellaway, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (captain), Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper. Reserves: Connal McInerney, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia.
Japan: Semisi Masirewa, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Timothy Lafaele, Ryota Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (captain), Ben Gunter, James Moore, Jack Cornelsen, Jiwon Gu, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Michael Leitch, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Yu Tamura, Dylan Riley.
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