Folau to debut for Wallabies

Israel Folau (AFP)
Israel Folau (AFP)

Brisbane - Former rugby league star Israel Folau was among three new caps named on Thursday to start for the Wallabies in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane.

The Brumbies pair of Ben Mowen and Christian Leali'ifano will also debut Saturday against the tourists at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium, while troubled back Kurtley Beale was named on the bench.

Coach Robbie Deans named Folau on the wing, aiming to take advantage of the speed the athletic 24-year-old once employed to devastating effect in his rugby league career.

His job will be to mark the powerful George North, who delivered a massive boost to the Lions by convincingly passing a fitness test on his suspect hamstring to be cleared for selection.

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley on Wednesday painted a graphic picture of what awaits former Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm star Folau in the series-opener.

"I've never seen him (North) in better shape and he's available for selection which is a huge fillip for us," Howley said.

"It's a huge morale boost to have someone like George North available for us."

While North was cleared to play, Welsh compatriot and fellow Lions back Jamie Roberts remains a serious doubt for Saturday with his own hamstring injury.

The Wallabies starting line-up features only six players from their last Test outing, a win over Warren Gatland's Wales late last year, including fullback Berrick Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, No 8 Wycliff Palu, lock Kane Douglas and props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.

Will Genia and James O'Connor reunite as the inside back combination. Both players have struggled with injury, with O'Connor ruled out of all of last year's Test programme, firstly due to a lacerated liver and then by a hamstring complaint

Genia featured until the mid-point of the Rugby Championship, signing off as the third captain employed by Australia during an extraordinary year when he damaged knee ligaments against South Africa.

Also back from injury is winger Digby Ioane, who declared himself fit just four weeks after knee surgery.

Beale, meanwhile, was given his chance on the bench after recently undergoing two weeks of rehab for alcohol-related issues.

Brumbies skipper Mowen will start on the blindside flank, from where he will call the lineouts. Mowen has led the Brumbies with distinction for the last two seasons, steering them to the top of the Australian conference in this year's Super Rugby standings.

The gifted Leali'ifano, meanwhile, got the nod at inside centre, making a belated debut a year later than expected, after he appeared certain to be Australia's flyhalf in the series against Wales this time last year, before cruelly breaking his ankle.

The 25-year-old will begin the game ahead of experienced Brumbies team-mate Pat McCabe, who is on the bench as he completes a return after breaking a bone in his neck.

The Wallabies head into the match boosted by the Lions first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years following their 14-12 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday night.

The second Test is in Melbourne on June 29 with the final clash in Sydney on July 6.

Teams:

Australia: 15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson

Substitutes: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Pat McCabe, 23 Kurtley Beale

British and Irish Lions: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 George North, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sam Warburton(captain), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Alex Corbisiero

Substitutes: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dan Lydiate, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Sean Maitland

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