Rugby-Hodge starts, O'Connor back on the bench for settled Wallabies


MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Reece Hodge will make his first Wallabies start of the year when Australia take on Argentina in the Rugby Championship on Saturday after getting the nod over James O'Connor at fullback for the Townsville test.

Hodge replaces the injured Tom Banks, while Rob Leota gets his first test start at blindside flanker in the only changes to the starting side that secured the second of back-to-back wins over world champions South Africa last weekend.

"We’re pretty keen to keep it as constant as we can," Rennie told reporters on Thursday of his selections.

"Hodgey put down a couple of high balls last week but outside of that he was excellent, his kicking was great, his defence was really strong."

Banks fractured his right arm at Lang Park and O'Connor, who has not played test rugby this year because of a groin injury, had been touted as his replacement.

The 31-year-old, who started three tests at flyhalf for Australia last season, was instead named on an otherwise unchanged bench for the clash at North Queensland Stadium.

"He obviously sees himself as a 10," Rennie said of O'Connor.

"We thought it’s important bringing James into the game late. There is no doubt we think he can play 15.

"He won’t give us the wheels of other guys from the back but (he has) a calm head and a smart kicking game, a strong organiser. We’ll see how things pan out over the next few weeks."

Leota, who got his first taste of international rugby as a replacement in the first win over the Springboks two weeks ago, comes into the back row for Lachie Swinton.

In his sixth test, Swinton drew a yellow card for a high tackle in last weekend's win at Lang Park, having drawn a red card for a high hit on debut against New Zealand last year.

"That’s certainly a focus for him. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time," said Rennie.

"We’re pretty keen to reward Rob (Leota) who’s been with us full-time."

Australia drew both of their tests against the Pumas last year with the versatile Hodge missing late penalty kicks that would have given Australia victory on both occasions.

Team: 15-Reece Hodge, 14-Andrew Kellaway, 13-Len Ikitau, 12-Samu Kerevi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Nic White, 8-Rob Valetini, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Rob Leota, 5-Matt Philip, 4-Izack Rodda, 3-Taniela Tupou, 2-Folau Fainga'a, 1-James Slipper

Replacements: 16-Feleti Kaitu'u, 17-Angus Bell, 18-Tom Robertson, 19-Darcy Swain, 20-Pete Samu, 21-Tate McDermott, 22-James O'Connor, 23-Jordan Petaia.

(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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