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Wallabies look to Hodge as England ring changes

Reece Hodge was handed a starting berth in Australia's line-up for Saturday's crucial match against England.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is banking on versatile back Reece Hodge to help his team seal a bruising series against England on Saturday, with former rugby league star Suliasi Vunivalu shaping up as a secret weapon.

With Australia hit hard by injuries in the brutal opening Tests at Perth and Brisbane, he has been forced into four changes for the sold-out decider at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Hodge was handed a lifeline at fullback after injuries to Tom Banks, Jordan Petaia and Andrew Kellaway, having failed to make the initial 36-man squad for the series.

Rennie has faith in the veteran, whose big boot could prove an asset.

“He’s come straight in (to camp) and slotted in really well, he’s got a big kicking game and we think that will be advantageous as well,” Rennie said.

“And he’ll also fill holes during the game, he’s one guy that we know based on injuries or needs he can slot in somewhere even if he hasn’t trained there during all week.”

England coach Eddie Jones also made changes, with seasoned scrum-half Danny Care recalled and Ollie Chessum and Lewis Ludlam handed starts among the forwards.

Rennie brought in Harry Wilson at blindside flanker to complement a backrow that includes captain Michael Hooper and No.8 Rob Valetini, with Cadeyrn Neville out injured.

Test centurion James Slipper replaces Angus Bell at loosehead prop and will be joined by David Porecki at hooker with Taniela Tupou at tighthead. 

Nick Frost earns his second cap alongside stalwart Matt Philip in the second row, with Rob Leota dropping to the bench.

“We know we’re a much better team than how we played in Brisbane and we’ve had a good week of preparation which will allow us to put in a performance that makes Australians proud on Saturday night,” said Rennie.

Rennie also sprung a surprise by including uncapped wing Vunivalu among the substitutes.

Vunivalu switched to the Queensland Reds in 2019 after a successful league career with Melbourne Storm and could make his debut.

“He’s a helluva athlete, and so we’re excited for him to get an opportunity on the weekend,” said Rennie.

Purpose and energy

Two of England’s changes were injury-enforced, with big lock Maro Itoje and flanker Sam Underhill both suffering concussions in their 25-17 win at Brisbane last weekend, which followed Australia’s 30-28 victory in Perth.

Leicester Tigers’ Chessum comes in the second row for Itoje for his first start, while Northampton Saints’ Ludlam replaces Underhill at openside flanker.

In an unchanged front row, hooker Jamie George is joined by props Ellis Genge and Will Stuart.

Captain Courtney Lawes is blindside flanker, Jonny Hill is the other lock and Billy Vunipola remains at No.8. 

Care comes in at scrum-half in place of Jack van Poortvliet in the only change to the backs. 

Marcus Smith is at fly-half, Owen Farrell inside centre and Guy Porter outside centre. Tommy Freeman stays on the left wing, with Jack Nowell on the right and Freddie Steward at fullback.

“We want to play with purpose and energy to win the series and an historic Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground,” said Jones.

“We’ve had a squad of 36 this tour who have competed hard and we’re really proud of their efforts.”

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