Uncapped 22-year-old flyhalf Ben Volavola will pull the strings for the Waratahs in their pre-season clash with the Crusaders in Sydney on Saturday.
The Southern Districts pivot will line up against All Black legend with the game shaping up to be a brutal trans-Tasman encounter pitting 12 Wallabies against 10 All Blacks but Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika says he had no doubts about starting the youngster.
"You don't get experience if you don't play," said Cheika. "I am more than happy with him playing. It's very exciting for Ben to go up against Dan Carter. He is a very natural, instinctive player and although he's only very young and a few months into the program as a professional player, the way he has responded has been surprisingly good.
"It will be up to the rest of the team to make sure he challenges one of the best players in the world and take him on. It won't be up to Ben, he'll just play naturally," he added.
Volavola will have plenty of experience around him to rely on. The job of neutralising potent centre Robbie Fruean will fall to veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will wear the No.13 jersey, whilst fellow Wallaby Lachie Turner and speedster Tom Kingston, who notched up a hat-trick last weekend, will play on the wings. In his third rugby union match, Israel Folau faces his toughest challenge yet as he lines up against All Blacks fullback, Israel Dagg.
Up front, the Waratahs squad features six internationals, lead by debutant captain Dave Dennis. Behind the all-Wallaby front row of Robinson, Polota-Nau and Kepu, recent signing Mitchell Chapman will make his first appearance for the Sydney side as he packs down alongside Sita Timani.
On the side of the scrum, Cheika will try out another new name, as Sydney University flank David Hickey gets his chance to impress.
One of a dozen promising NSW youngsters invited to train with the team through the off-season, the 21-year-old completes a loose trio that also features Dennis and Wycliff Palu.
"If we can go forward up front, then we'll earn the right to go a bit wider and attack and hopefully put them under pressure," said Cheika, before warning that he wasn't expecting a perfect performance so early in the season.
"It's early days, we're not going to get carried away. It's more about the team realizing that this is the way we play, this is the team we are, and this is how we do it every day.
"It won’t just come in a few practice matches, it will take time for that to blend in when we're under pressure, when we have adversity, to make sure we are true to the way we want to play," he explained.
On the monster match-up between Wallaby and All Black No.8s Palu and Keiran Read, Cheika said: "I have obviously only watched from as far and I like Keiran Read. He is clearly a quality player, you can see has an important role within the All Blacks team as well the Canterbury team. We're going to have to work hard to put him in his place otherwise he will run riot."
Amongst the 14-man replacements is another newcomer in James Hilgendorf. Currently living in Sydney, the former Rebels flyhalf has been called in as injury cover for Berrick Barnes and Bernard Foley, who are both expected back over the coming weeks.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Tom Kingston, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Grayson Hart, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Hickey, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Mitchell Chapman, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements - from: Luke Holmes, John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Brendan McKibbin, James Hilgendorf, Cam Crawford, Michael Hodge, Drew Mitchell, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Lopeti Timani, Kane Douglas, Greg Peterson
Date: Thursday, February 14
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.30 (08.30 GMT; 21.30 NZ time)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
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