Gordon, Foley in new-look Wallabies halves pairing

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has opted for an all-new halves pairing for Bledisloe I, teaming former Waratahs teammates Jake Gordon and Bernard Foley for the clash at Melbourne's Marvel Stadium on Thursday night.

With Noah Lolesio unavailable after he suffered a concussion in the 24-8 loss to the Springboks, Rennie has been forced to turn to Foley as the Wallabies' fourth different starting fly-half in 2022.

It will be a first Test for Foley, 33, since the Wallabies' 2019 Rugby World Cup pool loss to Wales, with the Sydneysider having spent the last three seasons with Kubota Spears in Japanese rugby. Gordon meanwhile has enjoyed multiple starts off the bench this season, but at last gets the chance to make an impact from the opening whistle.

"Noah's no good, we would have liked to have [stuck] with him to get a bit of continuity, but it's fantastic have Bernard as an option," Rennie said. "He's done really well, he's got his head around things quickly, he was excellent last week around driving the opposition stuff; he's fitted in really well, his experience, his voice, so it's been a good transition and he's ready to go."

While Lolesio's omission is no surprise given the shorter turnaround, Gordon's promotion at No. 9 is one that may have caught the All Blacks off guard given the faith Rennie has shown in White the last two years.

But the Wallabies coach admitted the Brumbies No. 9 hadn't quite been at his best in the loss to South Africa in Sydney, while the familiarity Gordon has with Foley from their time together at NSW was also a factor in the Waratahs skipper's selection.

"Whitey's wasn't at his best last week, he's started every Test this year and had a massive load," Rennie said. "And I thought Jake was excellent off the bench last week and so he deserves a chance to start."

Rennie has otherwise made three changes to his pack, while also tweaking the Wallabies backline after the concussions suffered by Lolesio and Paisami.

Up front, Dave Porecki replaces Folau Fainga'a as the starting hooker while Jed Holloway moves from the back-row to partner Matt Philip in the second-row.

Holloway's move into the top five creates the opportunity for Rob Leota to return to blindside flanker, while Pete Samu will enjoy a rare start at No. 7 ahead of Fraser McReight. Skipper Michael Hooper is still to return from his mental health break.

Meanwhile in the backline, Lalakai Foketi replaces Paisami to partner Len Ikitau in the midfield and Andrew Kellaway returns to the starting side at fullback in place of Reece Hodge.

The big talking point, however, is Foley, with the fly-half having not played a match proper since May 28, when Kubota defeated Toshiba Brave Lupus in the playoff for third in Japan's League One. But after joining the Wallabies ahead of their two Tests with the Springboks, Foley has won over the faith of Rennie and his fellow coaches.

Australia will be hoping Foley enjoys a similarly triumphant return to the Test arena as Quade Cooper, who was brought back into the fold last year and subsequently spearheaded the Wallabies to five straight wins alongside Samu Kerevi.

"It's a pretty similar situation because you remember Quade came in and watched all the All Black Tests [in 2021] before he got his opportunity against South Africa," Rennie said. "And Bernard's been able to do the same and contribute big time.

"They're similar characters; impressive, fantastic work ethic, real massive contribution off the field around meetings, and very strong tactical understanding. So it's been great having him in and we look forward to seeing him on the park on Thursday."

Unfortunately, both Cooper and Kerevi are now sidelined with season-ending injuries in what has been a horror run for the Wallabies in 2022.

In an interview with ESPN earlier this year, Foley revealed he had not yet given up hope of a Wallabies recall and that he was open to playing at next year's Rugby World Cup in France.

With a change in policy on overseas selection, the injuries to Lolesio and Cooper, and James O'Connor's indifferent form, what was thought to be an outside prospect is now very much a genuine reality, particularly if the New South Welshman can recapture the kind of form that he showed at the 2015 tournament under Michael Cheika.

The Wallabies have not held the Bledisloe since 2003 and were swept 3-0 by the All Blacks in 2021.

Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby have since agreed that the series revert to a two-game contest, meaning the Wallabies must win in Melbourne and again in Auckland on Saturday week to end 19 years of trans-Tasman pain.

The Test also represents the start of Round 5 of the Rugby Championship, which is led by the All Blacks on 10 points, with each of the Wallabies, Springboks and Pumas one point adrift.

AUSTRALIA: Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Lalakai Foketi, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon; Rob Valetini, Pete Samu, Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Jed Holloway, Allan Alaalatoa, Dave Porecki, James Slipper. Replacements: Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Pone Fa'aumasili, Darcy Swain, Fraser McReight, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.