Australia coach Michael Cheika on Thursday named teen sensation Jordan Petaia in his starting side to face England in this weekend’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final in a bold gamble.
Cheika’s surprise decision to field the 19-year-old is one of five changes for Saturday’s clash in Oita with wing Reece Hodge back from a three-game ban and centre James O’Connor dropping to the bench.
Allan Ala’alatoa, Michael Hooper, Will Genia, Christian Lealiifano also return to the starting line-up after Australia beat Georgia 27-8 in their final pool game.
Petaia has played just two Tests, both on the wing, but Wallabies selectors have backed him to make an impact at outside centre, where he has played for Super Rugby side Queensland Reds.
It represents something of a risk by Cheika, who also named centurion Will Genia at scrum-half in place of Nic White, with Kurtley Beale poised to start at full-back.
Petaia became Australia’s youngest-ever World Cup player with a lively Test debut – when he scored one try and made another – in the 45-10 thrashing of Uruguay two weeks ago.
But he will come under heavy fire from England, whose coach Eddie Jones has promised to defend with “brutality” as he looks to extend a six-game win streak over the Aussies.
O’Connor, meanwhile, has paid the price for a dip in form after a decent start in Australia’s opening Pool D win over Fiji.
Hodge was slapped with a three-game suspension for a high tackle in that 39-21 victory but Cheika has kept faith with the 25-year-old by ushering him back into the starting line-up.
Petaia will be 19 years 218 days on Saturday, when he will become the second-youngest player to feature in a World Cup knockout match after Wales’s George North in 2011.
England, who beat Jones’s Australia in the 2003 final, sprung a surprise by dropping fly-half George Ford to the bench and giving Henry Slade his first start of the tournament.
Kurtley Beale; Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Christian Lealiifano, Will Genia; Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (capt), David Pocock; Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda; Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Nic White, Matt To’omua, James O’Connor