Rising Brumbies star Tom Hooper will cap a rapid rise in professional rugby in Pretoria this weekend when he starts at No. 6 in the Wallabies' opening Rugby Championship Test against the Springboks.
Bathurst-raised Hooper is one of four debutants in Eddie Jones' first matchday 23 since the Wallabies coach's return to the role he was sacked from in 2005, the utility forward joined by Zane Nonggorr, Richie Arnold and Carter Gordon all among the replacements.
Hooper was injured for the first half of the Super Rugby Pacific season, but caught the eye upon his return and showed his versatility in covering lock and No. 6, before Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham even used him in the No. 7 jersey in the semifinal loss to the Chiefs.
"Well, I went down to the Brumbies early in their season and I know a few of their coaches, I know Stevie [Larkham] pretty well, and they were saying keep an eye out for this young fella," Jones said of Hooper.
"He had a late start because of injury and his first few games weren't very impressive and I thought does Stevie really know what he's talking about here? But certainly, towards the end of the season, he was an absolute standout."
Hooper burst onto the scene late in the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific, only for a shoulder injury in the semifinal loss to the Blues to deny him any chance of graduating to the Wallabies under former coach Dave Rennie.
His Brumbies teammate James Slipper said Hooper was the ultimate team man.
"He throws his body into everything. He just wants to be the best teammate he can possibly be for the group, so for us right now he's the perfect fit," Slipper said.
"He's worked really hard to be where he is and it's really pleasing to see him in the team because he's had a tough [season], as Eddie said, he had a strong finish so it'll be good to see him get out there on the weekend and debut.
There is also a second Test debut, of sorts, for former NRL star Suliasi Vunivalu, who will take his run-on bow after playing a miserly two minutes off the bench against England in Sydney last year.
Despite a scare on Wednesday, co-captain James Slipper has been named to start at loosehead prop in a front-row that also features hooker Dave Porecki and tighthead Allan Alaalatoa.
Jones, has meanwhile stayed true to his word and brought Will Skelton, "probably the world's best tighthead lock" straight into his run-on side where he will partner impressive Brumbies second-rower Nick Frost. Co-captain Michael Hooper and powerhouse No. 8 Rob Valetini round out the back-row alongside Tom Hooper.
In the backs, Jones has opted for experienced duo Nic White and Quade Cooper, as expected, but the Wallabies coach has dropped a shock of sorts at No. 12 where Reece Hodge starts in front of Samu Kerevi, who is on the comeback trail from a minor hamstring injury.
Hodge partners Len Ikitau in the centres, while Marika Koroibete and Tom Wright complete the back three alongside Vunivalu.
"As a squad, the players have worked extremely hard since coming together as a group and we've prepared well this week," Jones said via a media release.
"The 23 players selected have an opportunity to be part of history with a win over South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday night."
The Wallabies will confront a severely understrength Springboks in Pretoria, where Australia has never tasted victory, after South Africa opted to send and advance party of 12 players to New Zealand ahead of the Test against the All Blacks next week.
Still, a massive challenge awaits Jones' men, with Australia's last victory over the Springboks in South Africa coming all the way back in 2011.
AUSTRALIA: Tom Wright, Suliasi Vunivalu, Len Ikitau, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper, Tom Hooper, Will Skelton, Nick Frost, Allan Alaalatoa, Dave Porecki, James Slipper. Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Matt Gibbon, Zane Nonggorr, Richie Arnold, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, Samu Kerevi, Carter Gordon.