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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Australia pick new-look front row
Listen to live coverage on BBC Five Live Sports Extra and this website (UK users only)

Rodney Blake (left) and Greg Holmes train with the Wallabies
Blake (left) - known as "Rodzilla" - and Holmes will be the props
Australia coach John Connolly has chosen a heavyweight new front row for Sunday's opening Test series against England at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

Tight-head prop Rodney Blake and hooker Tai McIsaac make debuts while Greg Holmes wins a fourth cap at loose-head.

Only seven of the starting XV that lost to England last November are included.

Rocky Elsom and Daniel Heenan come into the back row, Mat Rogers moves to inside centre and captain George Gregan wins a record-equalling 119th cap.

Gregan equals the world record of former England prop Jason Leonard, who won 114 caps for England and five for the Lions.

Western Force full-back Cameron Shepherd and Queensland scrum-half Josh Valentine could also make their Test debuts from the bench.

Tongan-born Blake, known as "Rodzilla" with his 20-stone frame, impressed with his powerful set-piece work for the Queensland Reds during this year's Super 14 tournament.

Tai McIsaac during Wallabies training
McIsaac represented Australia U21s at water polo before playing rugby
Alongside fellow Reds prop Greg Holmes and Western Force hooker McIsaac, he will be part of Australia's least experienced starting front row since 1983.

Connolly is attempting to revamp a scrum that was humiliated in a 26-16 loss to England at Twickenham last November.

"It's a huge gamble but it's one we have to take," Connolly told Five Live Sport. "The depth of Australian rugby leaves a bit to be desired and we have to broaden that.

"Rodney Blake can be a force in years to come and Tai McIsaac is a strong scrummager. Greg Holmes has got a fair way to go but we think he's got a future."

Connolly said he picked the side "very much on form", but that it was far from a definitive selection.

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"Front row, hooker and the back-row positions are very competitive but it's a great chance for the players who have been selected to put their hands up and show that they are capable of retaining those spots," he added.

Heenan, normally a lock with the ACT Brumbies, has been handed a chance to resurrect a Test career that has stalled since his sole cap against Wales in 2003.

Elsom, usually a blind-side flanker, will also bring more ball-carrying ability to the back row at number eight, with Phil Waugh relegated to a bench role.


Australia team: C Latham (Queensland Reds); M Gerrard (ACT), S Mortlock (ACT), M Rogers (New South Wales), L Tuqiri (NSW); S Larkham (ACT), G Gregan (ACT- capt); G Holmes (Reds), T McIsaac (Western Force), R Blake (Reds), N Sharpe (Force), D Vickerman (NSW), D Heenan (ACT), G Smith (ACT), R Elsom (NSW).
Replacements: J Paul (ACT), Al Baxter (NSW), M Chisholm (ACT), P Waugh (NSW), J Valentine (Reds), C Rathbone (ACT), C Shepherd (Force).

England team: I Balshaw (Gloucester); T Varndell (Leicester), M Tait (Newcastle), M Catt (London Irish), T Voyce (Wasps); O Barkley (Bath), P Richards (Gloucester); G Rowntree (Leicester), L Mears (Bath), J White (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), A Brown (Gloucester), M Lund (Sale Sharks), L Moody (Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester, capt).
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), T Payne (Wasps), C Jones (Sale Sharks), J Worsley (Wasps), N Walshe (Bath), A Goode (Leicester), J Noon (Newcastle)


SEE ALSO
Varndell wins England start spot
07 Jun 06 |  Internationals
England switch emphasis to attack
07 Jun 06 |  Internationals
Robinson wants 'ruthless' England
05 Jun 06 |  Internationals
Larkham still hurt by final loss
05 Jun 06 |  Internationals
Dwyer expects England to impress
03 Jun 06 |  Internationals
White tips young England to shine
02 Jun 06 |  Internationals


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