Teen fullback starts match for Aussies
SYDNEY - Teenage fullback James O'Connor and flanker Rocky Elsom have been added to the Australian team for Saturday's Tri-Nations clash with New Zealand at the Olympic stadium.
The pair were called up to replace the injured duo of Stirling Mortlock and Wycliff Palu in a reshuffled Wallabies side that needs to win the match to stay alive in the series.
With regular captain Mortlock unavailable, open-side flanker George Smith was appointed skipper for the fourth time in his career.
Utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper moved into Mortlock's position at outside centre to allow 19-year-old O'Connor into the starting side.
O'Connor is regarded as one of Australia's brightest young prospects and coach Robbie Deans said he had no reservations about promoting him after he made a strong impression when replacing Mortlock during the loss to South Africa two weeks ago.
"He showed in Cape Town that he was quite capable of handling himself at this level," Deans said in a statement yesterday.
"The pressure there, given the circumstance in which James entered the game, was as great then as it could be, and he acquitted himself well.
"As did Adam, when he moved into centre after Stirling was injured. Saturday is another good opportunity for him in the midfield." The absence of Palu also forced a positional change in the back row with Richard Brown switching to number eight, allowing Elsom to come in at open-side flanker.
Elsom has not played a Test for Australia for more than a year after spending the off-season in Ireland.
The 26-year-old returned to Australia in June but had been sidelined with a knee problem until recently.
"While he hasn't been able to get a game in, Rocky has done the work to get back up to speed. We are satisfied that he is good to go," Deans said.
"It is a big ask of him to make his comeback in a Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations Test, but that's the reality of our schedule, and is the sort of challenge he thrives on."
Australia are the only side without a win in this year's Tri-Nations after losing their opening two games to the All Blacks and world champion South Africans. - Reuters