Wallaby coach Robbie Deans wielded a very big axe, making five changes to the Australian starting XV for the Tri-Nations decider against New Zealand at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that the big losers – from the side that slumped to a record 8-53 loss to South Africa in Johannesburg 10 days ago – were inside centre Timana Tahu, flank Phil Waugh, utility forward Hugh McMeniman, prop Matt Dunning and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Rugby League convert Tahu, who after the Johannesburg humiliation publicly declared that he was ‘looking for a rope to hang himself’, and Polota-Nau were dropped from the matchday 22 altogether.
Captain Stirling Mortlock moves from outside to inside centre in place of Tahu, with Ryan Cross starting outside him, while Stephen Moore is the new hooker at the expense of Polota-Nau.
Adam Freier is the replacement hooker.
In other changes, George Smith replaces Phil Waugh as openside flank, 70-Test veteran Nathan Sharpe (initially axed from the tour squad to South Africa before injury intervened) returns to start in the second row instead of Hugh McMeniman and Al Baxter is at tighthead prop instead of Matt Dunning (with Dunning famously being replaced after just 30 minutes of the Johannesburg massacre).
Western Force forward Richard Brown has won a place on the bench in place of Dean Mumm.
Waugh, McMeniman and Dunning have slotted into the replacement bench, which features a five-forwards-two-backs split.
Scrumhalf Brett Sheehan and wing-fullback Drew Mitchell covering the backline positions.
Freier returns to the matchday squad for the first time since Australia beat France 40-10 at Suncorp Stadium in early July.
Brown will become the 828th player to be capped by Australia in Tests should he be required to take the field.
The injured trio of inside centre Berrick Barnes, scrumhalf Luke Burgess and lock Dan Vickerman were not considered for selection.
As well as deciding this year’s Tri-Nations series, Saturday’s match is the third leg of the 2008 Bledisloe Cup series, with the scoreboard currently locked at one match apiece.
The fourth match will be played at the National Stadium in Hong Kong on Saturday November 1.
Australia must win the series outright to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, which it has not held since a New Zealand side that had Robbie Deans as its assistant coach, prevailed two-nil in the 2003 series.
Thirteen of the players named in the starting line-up on Tuesday started when Australia won the opening match of this year’s series, 34-19, at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on 26 July.
Saturday’s Suncorp Stadium decider is also officially sold out, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced on Tuesday.
A crowd of around 52,000 is assured after a final release of tickets – the late but limited numbers handed back by various constituents – went on sale on Monday.
Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Peter Hynes, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sam Cordingley, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 James Horwill, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 Phil Waugh, 20 Richard Brown, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Drew Mitchell.
Date: Saturday, September 13
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20.00 (10.00 GMT)(11:00 SA Time)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Touch judges: Craig Joubert, Mark Lawrence
TMO: Johann Meuwesen