Cooper to 'run' the show
Quade Cooper returns to the Wallaby starting line-up for Saturday's Rugby Championship clash with the Springboks.
Quade Cooper returns to the Wallaby starting line-up for Saturday's Rugby Championship clash with the Springboks, an indication that Australia will unleash a running game on the Boks.
Coach Ewen McKenzie gave further indication of his intentions by shifting Israel Folau from wing to fullback - to make the best use of his attacking potential.
Australia have lost both their opening matches in the Rugby Championship to New Zealand, forcing the new Wallaby coach, McKenzie, to shuffle the backline for the crucial Brisbane showdown.
The addition of Cooper and the shift from the wing for Folau represent two of four changes to the starting XV, which also include Sekope Kepu and Nick Cummins getting an opportunity at tighthead prop and on the wing.
Cooper fell out of favour under former Australia coach Robbie Deans and Saturday will be the first time he has worn the No.10 jersey since the Wallabies defeated South Africa and Argentina in back-to-back Tests in September last year.
He is now well and truly in the mix under his former Queensland Reds mentor McKenzie, who said Cooper, reunited with scrumhalf and Reds teammate Will Genia, deserved to be back.
"We have very specific thoughts about how we want to play this game and feel Quade is best suited to carrying that out," he said.
"He's been part of our matchday squad in both games so far but his role now changes from being a finisher to starting the game.
"We feel that role will suit how we want to play.
"He is also an experienced and successful Test player, which is handy to have against a hardened Springboks outfit."
"It has been almost 12 months since he last started a Test match and I'm sure there were times where he wondered if he would wear the No.10 jersey again.
"He's worked really hard both on and off the field to now get that chance.
"He's carried himself extremely well all year and during the last fortnight in the role we've asked him to complete. Now, he gets a chance to make an impact from the start of the game.
"That also means we're asking Matt [Toomua] to fulfil a new role this week. He has had a great season so far and his form was reflected in our decision to choose him for the opening two Test matches.
"He's still in our Test squad and will have a part to play in our success this week and moving forward."
Cooper's return reunites the successful playmaking partnership he shares with Genia at a venue where the pair have achieved tremendous results for both the Wallabies and at a Super Rugby level with the Queensland Reds.
Among those was the decisive Tri-Nations-winning victory over the All Blacks in 2011, only months after Queensland won their maiden Super Rugby title at Suncorp Stadium.
Cooper also holds a commanding record against South African opposition having won seven of his nine total matches against the Springboks, including his past five.
His record is indicative of the success Australia has had against South Africa in recent times, especially at Suncorp Stadium, where the Wallabies are unbeaten in their past seven games.
Folau, who rebuffed a return to the National Rugby League by signing a two-year deal with the Australian Rugby Union last week, has played all of his five Tests so far on the wing.
But McKenzie now sees his attacking potential best used at fullback.
"Israel has played more fullback than on the wing so he will undoubtedly feel comfortable playing the position," he said.
"He has looked impressive at training and we think he will add value with how we want to approach the game."
His move opens the door for Western Force winger Cummins, who has been given his first opportunity of 2013, adding to the six Test caps he has earned since making his debut against Argentina last year.
"Once we made the decision to move Israel it opened the door for another player on the wing. The Springboks are an abrasive and physical team and we feel Nick's style of play will suit that," said McKenzie.
"Up front Keps [Sekope Kepu] has been on the fringes but he is a very good technician of the game, which is important as everyone continues to work out the new scrum laws. We've got a lot of good players in this space and for this week Keps deserves an opportunity to start."
On the bench, Queensland Reds back row forward Jake Schatz is in line to make his long-awaited Test debut.
"Jake has been a continuously improving player for as long as I have known him and that was reflected in his Pilecki Medal honour. Winning that award is the ultimate recognition of consistency over a period of time.
"He will bring a bunch of attributes to the game and can cover all three back row positions, along with being a very good line-out jumper."
The Springboks, coming off back-to-back wins over Argentina, have never won in eight Tests in the Queensland state capital, including seven since the inception of the Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship in 1996.
The Wallabies enter the match with possession of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate and will retain the silverware for a fourth straight year with a victory at Suncorp Stadium.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jesse Mogg.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20.05 (12.05 SA time; 10.05 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)