Sheehan thrust into starting 15 for Wallabies

GEORGINA ROBINSON
Last updated 07:03 23/11/2012
Brett Sheehan
Getty Images
FIRST START: Brett Sheehan gets some kicking practice in before the test against Italy.

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Veteran Force halfback Brett Sheehan will make his maiden start for the Wallabies as Australia looks to continue its unbeaten run against Italy on Saturday.

Six years after coming off the bench in his first test, Sheehan, 33, will earn his seventh cap in the starting line-up as one of four changes made to the Wallabies side that beat England at Twickenham last week.

Drew Mitchell joins Nick Cummins on the wing, replacing Digby Ioane, Stephen Moore will start at hooker in place of Tatafu Polota-Nau and Scott Higginbotham returns from his two-test suspension to start at blindside breakaway, with Dave Dennis moving to the bench.

Australia have won the 14 previous test matches against the Azzurri, including last year's World Cup pool match and the 2010 spring tour test. Coach Robbie Deans has sought to freshen the side's legs at the halfway point of its four-test European tour but insisted it was not a comment on the threat posed by Italy.

''It's quite the reverse,'' he said. ''If you look at the men who are coming in, they are all seasoned test players. Drew [Mitchell] is one of the most experienced test wingers in Australian history, Stephen Moore is our most-capped hooker, while Scott [Higginbotham] was the test incumbent in his position until 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.''

The side remains unchanged otherwise. Deans and the selection staff have backed Force winger Cummins to continue the form that scored him Australia's only try of the tour to date, against England last week, while the new back-line combination used in the match has been selected again.

Ben Tapuai and Adam Ashley-Cooper will start in the midfield outside five-eighth Kurtley Beale and Berrick Barnes returns at fullback.

The back row will again feature open-side Michael Hooper and No 8 Wycliff Palu alongside Higginbotham, who has been in Europe less than a week after training with new province the Rebels during his suspension.

Sitaleki Timani will start alongside captain Nathan Sharpe in the second row, with Dave Dennis supporting the back and second rows from the bench. Ben Alexander will start again in the front row beside Moore and Benn Robinson. James Slipper and Sekope Kepu are on the bench, along with Polota-Nau and breakaway Liam Gill. Mike Harris, Ioane and Phipps are also on the bench.

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Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made just two changes to the pack for his team's third and final November rugby international.

Robert Barbieri returns at openside flanker in place of Simone Favaro with captain Sergio Parisse and Alessandro Zanni completing the back three.

Quintin Geldenhuys comes into the second row in place of Antonio Pavanello to partner Francesco Minto.

Italy defeated Tonga 28-23 in their opening match before losing 42-10 to world champions New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Rob Simmons is appealing his eight-week suspension for a lifting tackle on French forward Yannick Nyanga. The Wallabies are seeking to overturn the charge or contest its classification as a top-end offence. The appeal must be heard within the week.

Australia: Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Ben Tapuai, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale, Brett Sheehan, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (c), Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane.

Italy: Andrea Masi, Giovambattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi, Mirco Bergamasco, Luciano Orquera, Edoardo Gori, Sergio Parisse (captain), Robert Barbieri, Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Michele Rizzo, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Simone Favaro, Manoa Vosawai, Tobias Botes, Luke McLean.

- Sydney Morning Herald with Reuters

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