Hunt deserves chance - Cheika

Karmichael Hunt (Getty)
Karmichael Hunt (Getty)

Melbourne - Coach Michael Cheika said veteran code-hopper Karmichael Hunt had earned his chance with Australia after overcoming the "hardship" of a cocaine scandal at the start of his rugby career.

Hunt, whose introduction to rugby in 2015 was blighted by the scandal stemming from his days in the Australian Football League, will make his Wallabies debut aged 30 against Fiji on Saturday.

Hunt, who was named at inside-centre, joins fullback Israel Folau in the Wallabies team as the only players in Australian history who have been a dual rugby international and an AFL senior player.

"He's overcome some hardship, ever since he's come to rugby and that's what we want in players," Cheika said ahead of the Melbourne international.

"We want them to be resilient. He's warranted the opportunity to wear the gold jumper."

Cheika has shouldered the task of lifting the spirits of Australian rugby amid a demoralising Super Rugby campaign, and he hasn't shied away from making tough calls to get the Wallabies off to a winning start for 2017.

He has dumped 117-Test hooker and captain Stephen Moore from the starting line-up, handing the captaincy to flanker Michael Hooper, and named two debutants in Hunt and blindside flanker Ned Hanigan.

While Cheika says 34-year-old Moore won't be jettisoned from his plans for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, he has given Tatafu Polota-Nau his chance to impress as first-choice hooker in Melbourne.

"Stephen's still our captain and our leader, we want to create competition so no one is guaranteeing anyone anything and he (Moore) knows that," Cheika said.

The third-ranked Wallabies carry the banner for a national game in dire straits with Australia's five franchises struggling and one, as yet unnamed, facing the axe when Super Rugby reverts to 15 teams next season form the current 18.

The beleaguered Australian Rugby Union suffered a further setback this week when they lost a million-dollar naming rights sponsorship of the code's key pathways competition, the National Rugby Championship.

"I'm a strong and passionate believer in rugby in this country," Cheika said.

"Yeah, there's some tough times on and off the field but it's what you get from those and how you respond."

The Wallabies are expected to beat the 10th-ranked Fijians after winning 12 of their 15 internationals in Australia, with the Pacific Islanders' last win on these shores back in 1954.

Fiji have named hulking Jale Vatubua at inside-centre as one of three debutants in their line-up after starring in France's Top 14 competition with Pau.

Vatubua will be joined by Rio Olympic Sevens gold medallist lock Viliame Mata, who plays in Scotland, and local prop Kalivati Tawake among the reserves.

"I have been able to select a very strong and experienced team to take on the Wallabies," coach John McKee said.



15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Tom Robertson

Substitutes : 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Reece Hodge


15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Albert Vulivuli, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Nikola Matawalu, 8 Akapusi Qera (captain), 7 Naulia Dawai, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Peni Ravai, 2 Sunia Koto, 1 Campese Maafu

Substitutes: 16 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 17 Joeli Veitayaki, 18 Kalivati Tawake, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Viliame Mata, 21 Nemani Nagusa, 22 Seurpepeli Vularika, 23 Benito Masilevu

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