Kurtley Beale has backed Reece Hodge to start at outside centre for Australia on Saturday as the Wallabies look to record back-to-back wins over New Zealand.
Hodge has emerged as the frontrunner for the number 13 shirt after Michael Cheika left Curtis Rona out of his squad for the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.
The 23-year-old is not the only option in midfield, though, with Israel Folau also a possibility, but Beale believes Hodge – who scored the winning penalty against the All Blacks in October – should get the nod.
“Reece is obviously a very versatile player and I’m sure if given an opportunity will step up and do a fine job,” Beale said.
“Israel’s obviously played there during Super Rugby as well and I’m sure he’ll be able to get the job done as well.
“I’m pretty confident that whoever we put in that position they’ll be pretty keen to get out there and express themselves and get the job done for the team.”
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Hodge remains in the dark about his chances and knows things could easily change in the coming days as Australia step up their preparations.
“There’s still a few guys in the squad who can play 13,” he said. “Izzy’s [Folau] still an option as well.
“At the moment, throughout the preparation, the last few weeks have been about trying as many combinations we can to get comfortable playing next to everyone who’s in the squad and I think it’s going to be really important for us come game one.
“Cheika’s still got a week to change his mind about selections, so who knows, but we’re prepared as best we can be for Saturday.”
Whoever starts for Australia will come up against an All Blacks side without Sonny Bill Williams, but Beale says that makes little difference given the strength in depth Steve Hansen has at his disposal.
“The All Blacks are a world class team, they’re the number one team in the world for a reason. Whoever they put in any position they step up and get the job done,” he added.
“The big focus has been on us at the moment. We’re well aware of the capabilities they’ll bring on the weekend, but we know that if we have a full focus on what we want to deliver out there that will allow us to get the result that we want.”
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