Skipper Stephen Moore a shock axing for Fiji Test
RUGBY UNION: Wallabies captain Stephen Moore has been dropped by coach Michael Cheika for the first Test of the year in a bombshell announcement in Melbourne.
Moore remains the squad captain but his starting hooking position has been taken by Tatafu Polota-Nau, while Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper will lead the Australian side on the field against Fiji on Saturday afternoon.
The 34-year-old has struggled for top form with Queensland this year and this could be the first sign Cheika is blooding Hooper to be his captain for the 2019 World Cup campaign in Japan.
In another surprise move, former NRL and AFL star Karmichael Hunt has been handed his Test debut at inside centre, despite playing most of his career as a fullback for the Reds.
Hunt will be the secondary playmaking option and is one of two debutants in the starting side, the other being NSW flanker Ned Hanigan at blindside.
The bench will be confirmed on Friday, although Moore is likely to be Polota-Nau's back-up.
"Tatafu has been challenging Stephen for the No.2 jersey for many years and his form has warranted his selection,” Cheika said.
"Stephen is our captain and he'll be up to the challenge of what both Tatafu and Tolu (Latu) will bring this series.
"We're growing a young leadership team within our side and Michael is a key man in this.
"His leadership at the Tahs has been exceptional this year and we expect the same on Saturday for a big home Test against a very strong Fiji side.”
As for his two rookies, Cheika expects them to continue their strong Super Rugby form.
"It's been great to see the energy that Ned and Karmichael have brought this week,” Cheika said.
"We know Test footy is a different beast and I know they have what it takes to step up.”
Brumbies captain Sam Carter has beaten teammate Rory Arnold for a starting second-row spot alongside Adam Coleman, while veteran Scott Higginbotham makes a return to the national side as starting No.8.
Tevita Kuridrani will start in the outside centre position, with Samu Kerevi ruled out of the June Test series with an ankle injury.
Allan Alaalatoa has displaced Sekope Kepu as starting tight-head prop.