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Lealiifano, O'Connor return for Wallabies, Pumas change five

Australia coach Michael Cheika said the reshuffle was about giving as many players as possible a chance to impress ahead of the World Cup in Japan later this year.

Australia players during a training session. Picture: @qantaswallabies/Twitter

BRISBANE/BUENOS AIRES - Christian Lealiifano will start his first Test in three years against Argentina on Saturday while bad boy James O'Connor was recalled to the bench as Australia coach Michael Cheika experiments ahead of the World Cup.

Five changes have been made to the starting line-up and five among the replacements for the Brisbane match after the 35-17 defeat to South Africa in the opening clash of the Rugby Championship in Johannesburg last weekend.

Cheika said the reshuffle was about giving as many players as possible a chance to impress ahead of the World Cup in Japan later this year.

"I think it's only logical that now we would use this opportunity to give everyone a chance to play footy," he said.

"There's that, there's also making sure everyone's getting rugby as well, as opposed to not getting rugby. But when it all boils down to it, the view is to go out there and perform Saturday night and win the Test match."

Leukaemia survivor Lealiifano returns for the first time since 2016 after a stellar Super Rugby season with the ACT Brumbies.

He replaces Bernard Foley in a new-look backline alongside Will Genia, Marika Koroibete and Kurtley Beale as Cheika tests combinations, with Nic White, Tom Banks and Dane Haylett-Petty missing out.

GENIA GOODBYE

The game will be poignant for 101-Test scrum-half Genia, who will be playing in Brisbane for the last time after announcing his retirement from the international scene after the World Cup.

Fly-half Koroibete returns after missing the South Africa match for the birth of his second child, while Beale is elevated to the starting fifteen, as fullback, after an impressive performance off the bench against the Springboks.

Big loosehead prop Scott Sio is the only change in the forward pack with the 55-Test veteran recovering from a hamstring injury to replace James Slipper.

Once-exiled utility back O'Connor is set to make a stunning return after signing for the Queensland Reds this month.

Wayward O'Connor was only 23 when the Wallabies tore up his contract in 2013 after he was prevented from boarding a flight from Perth to Bali for being drunk, and he has not played since.

His chequered past also includes being arrested and fined in Paris in 2017 during a cocaine bust while playing for Toulon, before a move to Sale later that year where he again found form.

"He's come back, trained hard, he's integrated himself well with the players," Cheika said of O'Connor. "I think he's merited the opportunity to get a run."

Australia have lost just of one their last eight games against Argentina, although that defeat came on home soil last year on the Gold Coast.

They exacted some revenge in the return fixture after recording a memorable come-from-behind victory to secure a 45-34 win in Salta.

PUMAS COACH LEDESMA MAKES FIVE CHANGES FOR WALLABIES

Veteran hooker Agustin Creevy has been left out due to injury as Argentina coach Mario Ledesma made five changes to his side named on Wednesday to face Australia in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The Pumas came agonisingly close last weekend to a first ever victory over New Zealand but succumbed to a 20-16 defeat.

Creevy did not travel with the squad to Australia due to a muscle problem and is replaced in the front row by Julian Montoya.

Toulon back-rower Facundo Isa comes in at number eight in place of Javier Ortega Desio while Tomas Lezana plays at blindside flanker instead of Marcos Kremer.

Santiago Cordero, who moved from Exeter Chiefs to Bordeaux-Begles during the off season, comes in at right wing in place of Matias Moroni, who moves to outside center as Matias Orlando drops to the bench.

The final change sees Joaquin Tuculet picked at full-back ahead of Emiliano Boffelli.

After naming 13 players from Super Rugby runners-up Jaguares against the All Blacks, Ledesma has picked four foreign-based players to face the Wallabies.

Stade Francais fly-half Nicolas Sanchez and Saracens prop Juan Figallo keep their places.

Two more players, blindside flanker and captain Pablo Matera and lock Tomas Lavanini, played for Jaguares in their 19-3 defeat to the Canterbury Crusaders earlier this month but will join Stade Francais and Leicester Tigers respectively next season.

Australia began their campaign with a 35-17 defeat away to South Africa.

TEAMS

AUSTRALIA (15-1): Kurtley Beale; Reece Hodge, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete; Christian Lealiifano, Will Genia; Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (capt), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto; Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda; Sekope Kepu, Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio

Replacements: Tolu Latu, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Luke Jones, Nic White, Matt Toomua, James O'Connor

ARGENTINA

Joaquin Tuculet; Santiago Cordero, Matias Moroni, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Facundo Isa, Tomas Lezana, Pablo Matera (capt); Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti; Juan Figallo, Julian Montoya, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Replacements: Santiago Socino, Mayco Vivas, Ramiro Herrera, Matias Alemanno, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Felipe Ezcurra, Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, Matias Orlando