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Waratahs duo Mark Nawaqanitawase and Ben Donaldson set for Test debuts as Wallabies make mass changes against Italy

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“He’s had a hell of a season,” Rennie said. “He was excellent for Australia A, both in Fiji and in Japan. He’s a big man. Aerially, he’s outstanding, [as well as] going forward and under the high ball.

“He’s made big shifts defensively and he’s got post-tackle presence. He kicks the ball well. Generally we’ve got a pretty small back line, so he gives us a point of difference.”

Nawaqanitawase and Donaldson were teammates in the 2019 Junior Wallabies side that made the World U20 Championships final.

It’s not often two Waratahs players make their Test debuts in the same match. The last time it occurred was when Lachlan Swinton and Angus Bell debuted against the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2020.

Before that, Dean Mumm and Luke Burgess debuted together in 2008. Other Waratahs pairs to do so include Brett Sheehan and Benn Robinson (2006), Lachlan MacKay and Al Kanaar (2005), as well as Lote Tuqiri and Morgan Turinui (2003).

The Waratahs have never had three players debut in the same Test during the professional era (post 1996).

Noah Lolesio during Australia’s 24-8 loss to the Springboks at Allianz Stadium in September.Credit:AP

Noah Lolesio gets his chance at No.10 for the Wallabies this weekend, with Bernard Foley set to have a break after four straight Tests.

Lolesio was overtaken by Foley in the Wallabies pecking order after an underwhelming performance in the Rugby Championship Test against the Springboks in Sydney.

“Noah is running the [show] and we’ll play it as we see it,” Rennie said. “We’re conscious of the fact it’s a good Italian side. They’ve made really good shifts over the last 12 months. We’ve picked a side we think is strong, fresh, and so there is no plan to throw guys into the game early. We’ll judge it as we see it.”

Rennie has opted to give Foley, Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Nic White, Rob Valetini and a handful of other senior players a freshen-up before a huge clash with Ireland next week.

Slipper’s absence means Allan Alaalatoa will captain the side and become the 85th male to be given the honour of leading the Wallabies.

“He’s hugely respected,” Rennie said. “For anyone who knows Allan well, he’s a hell of a man. A very proud moment for him and his family. There was a lot of excitement when we named the team because of a couple of new boys. The biggest roar though was for Al when he was named as skipper. He could definitely skipper Australia long-term.”

Will Skelton has been given his first Wallabies start since 2016, where he will partner Nick Frost in the second row.

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Rennie has also gone with an entirely new back row in Ned Hanigan, Fraser McReight and Pete Samu.

Despite mass changes – only Frost, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau and Jock Campbell remain in Australia’s starting team from the most recent match in Paris – Rennie is comfortable Australia has a strong enough side to come away from Florence with a second victory of the tour.

“You can’t churn out the same side five weeks in a row and expect to be at your best late in the tour,” Rennie said. “We’ve got confidence in the group. We’ve got really good depth. When you look at the team, it’s a good side. We expect that team to front up.”

The Wallabies have never lost to Italy since the teams first met in 1983.

Watch all the action from the Wallabies’ Spring Tour with every match streaming ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.


“He’s had a hell of a season,” Rennie said. “He was excellent for Australia A, both in Fiji and in Japan. He’s a big man. Aerially, he’s outstanding, [as well as] going forward and under the high ball.

“He’s made big shifts defensively and he’s got post-tackle presence. He kicks the ball well. Generally we’ve got a pretty small back line, so he gives us a point of difference.”

Nawaqanitawase and Donaldson were teammates in the 2019 Junior Wallabies side that made the World U20 Championships final.

It’s not often two Waratahs players make their Test debuts in the same match. The last time it occurred was when Lachlan Swinton and Angus Bell debuted against the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2020.

Before that, Dean Mumm and Luke Burgess debuted together in 2008. Other Waratahs pairs to do so include Brett Sheehan and Benn Robinson (2006), Lachlan MacKay and Al Kanaar (2005), as well as Lote Tuqiri and Morgan Turinui (2003).

The Waratahs have never had three players debut in the same Test during the professional era (post 1996).

Noah Lolesio during Australia’s 24-8 loss to the Springboks at Allianz Stadium in September.

Noah Lolesio during Australia’s 24-8 loss to the Springboks at Allianz Stadium in September.Credit:AP

Noah Lolesio gets his chance at No.10 for the Wallabies this weekend, with Bernard Foley set to have a break after four straight Tests.

Lolesio was overtaken by Foley in the Wallabies pecking order after an underwhelming performance in the Rugby Championship Test against the Springboks in Sydney.

“Noah is running the [show] and we’ll play it as we see it,” Rennie said. “We’re conscious of the fact it’s a good Italian side. They’ve made really good shifts over the last 12 months. We’ve picked a side we think is strong, fresh, and so there is no plan to throw guys into the game early. We’ll judge it as we see it.”

Rennie has opted to give Foley, Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Nic White, Rob Valetini and a handful of other senior players a freshen-up before a huge clash with Ireland next week.

Slipper’s absence means Allan Alaalatoa will captain the side and become the 85th male to be given the honour of leading the Wallabies.

“He’s hugely respected,” Rennie said. “For anyone who knows Allan well, he’s a hell of a man. A very proud moment for him and his family. There was a lot of excitement when we named the team because of a couple of new boys. The biggest roar though was for Al when he was named as skipper. He could definitely skipper Australia long-term.”

Will Skelton has been given his first Wallabies start since 2016, where he will partner Nick Frost in the second row.

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Rennie has also gone with an entirely new back row in Ned Hanigan, Fraser McReight and Pete Samu.

Despite mass changes – only Frost, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau and Jock Campbell remain in Australia’s starting team from the most recent match in Paris – Rennie is comfortable Australia has a strong enough side to come away from Florence with a second victory of the tour.

“You can’t churn out the same side five weeks in a row and expect to be at your best late in the tour,” Rennie said. “We’ve got confidence in the group. We’ve got really good depth. When you look at the team, it’s a good side. We expect that team to front up.”

The Wallabies have never lost to Italy since the teams first met in 1983.

Watch all the action from the Wallabies’ Spring Tour with every match streaming ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport.

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