No surprise as Cooper returns
No surprise as Cooper returnsSHARE
Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has returned to the Wallabies set-up after being included in new coach Ewen McKenzie's first training squad for the international Rugby Championship series against South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.
Cooper, overlooked by former coach Robbie Deans for Australia's recent 1-2 series defeat to the British and Irish Lions, is among 11 Queensland players in the 40-man squad named Friday and rejoins Reds scrumhalf Will Genia and captain James Horwill.
Kurtley Beale, fullback for the Lions series, was not considered due to a shoulder injury, while Deans' flyhalf choice James O'Connor was included as a fullback or wing.
Deans persevered with O'Connor at No.10 against the Lions despite his inexperience in the key playmaking position and backlash from critics.
But McKenzie said he sees the young utility as an outside back and has included four other flyhalf options in the squad including Cooper, who was fined and then shunned after his public comments about the "toxic" environment in the Wallabies camp at the end of 2012.
As well as Beale, regular Wallabies Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe and Scott Higginbotham were not included owing to injuries.
The squad will reduced to 30 players on August 9 ahead of the first test against New Zealand at Sydney on August 17.
McKenzie, who coached Queensland to the 2011 Super Rugby title and into the play-offs this season, was appointed Australia coach earlier this month after Deans quit with six months remaining on his contract.
The former Australian World Cup-winning prop signaled the Wallabies would be taking a new approach under his stewardship.
"We'll have some different thoughts and ideas about how we go about it," he said.
"The reality is we've got to challenge ourselves to do things differently otherwise the outcomes will remain the same.
"We'll be able to go into that first game in our own backyard, in front of a full house, with some element of surprise. I don't think that's a bad situation."
The Brumbies halfback pairing Matt Toomua (flyhalf) and Nic White (scrumhalf) were among 10 uncapped players included in the squad, along with Queensland back row forward Jake Schatz and Melbourne Rebels lock Hugh Pyle.
The selected players will assemble for a five-day training camp in Sydney on Monday, August 5, giving the new Wallaby an opportunity to assess his options before announcing a final squad.
McKenzie has deliberately cast a wide net in selecting his inaugural training squad.
They will join an experienced core of players who will all be vying for selection in Australia's opening Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship clash with New Zealand.
"At this stage it's important that as many players as possible gain exposure to our program and that everyone is receiving an opportunity to push their case for selection before we narrow down our squad," McKenzie said.
"The first five days will be invaluable in this respect as there are some players I know very well and others that I'm interested in learning more about.
"What I do know though, as is evidenced by the fact that we've chosen 10 uncapped players for the training camp, is that Australia do have a lot of depth and talent coming through, now and for the future.
"We've taken that very much into consideration with our selections and believe this squad is capable of having success right now, while also expediting the development process for some of the younger guys who we see as having the potential to represent Australia in a few years."
Long-serving lock James Horwill will captain the Wallabies, which also includes 21 players who earned at least one cap during Australia's recent three-game Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
Of the omissions from the British & Irish Lions series, Kurtley Beale and Wycliff Palu have not been considered for selection due to injury, joining Wallabies regulars David Pocock, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe and Scott Higginbotham on the sideline.
Beale is set to undergo surgery on his shoulder and will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2013 season, while Palu will be unavailable during the early stages of Australia's campaign as he continues rehabilitation from surgery to repair damaged meniscus in a knee.
Reds' wing Rod Davies, Western Force centre Kyle Godwin and Waratahs' wings Cam Crawford are also unavailable for selection due to injury.
In finalising his initial 40-man squad, McKenzie has also given priority to players who are committed to Australian Rugby in 2014 and beyond, with many tough selection decisions favouring those players available for Wallabies selection in years to come.
"We've assessed each case on its own merits, but it's important that we are, where possible, making investments in players that are going to provide value for Australian Rugby over the next few seasons," McKenzie said.
"That was definitely a major consideration in selecting this training squad.
"With new systems to install, we've also put a lot of weight on those players who are healthy and able to contribute fully in training in the lead-up to our opening two Tests.
"There is only a very short period before our first match, so it's paramount that the players are in a strong position mentally and physically to be investing all their time now into understanding what we are trying to achieve.
"We're also trying to develop strong combinations and competition across all positions and you can only do that by having players who are available to train and compete."
The Wallabies will have just a fortnight to prepare for their opening game against the All Blacks, where a victory could prove decisive in Australia's quest to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.
The following week in Wellington an opportunity also exists for the Wallabies to snap a 12-year losing drought against the All Blacks in New Zealand, with Australia's last victory coming at Dunedin in 2001.
"It's always going to be challenging when you come up against the No.1 team in the world, but it also gives you the greatest opportunity to make a statement," McKenzie said.
"If we want to change where we are in the Rugby landscape, this is a great place to start. Effectively, the Bledisloe Cup is there for the taking if we are good enough over two weekends."
Australian squad: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Nick Cummins, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Anthony Faingaa, Saia Faingaa, Scott Fardy, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Liam Gill, Mike Harris, Michael Hooper, James Horwill (captain), Sekope Kepu, Peter Kimlin, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Jesse Mogg, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, James O'Connor, Nick Phipps, Tatafu Polota Nau, Hugh Pyle, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White.
Rugby Championship draw:
Saturday, August 17: Wallabies v All Blacks – Sydney
Saturday, August 17: Springboks v Pumas – Soweto
Saturday, August 24: All Blacks v Wallabies – Wellington
Saturday, August 24: Pumas v Springboks – Mendoza
Saturday, August 31: Bye week
Saturday, September 7: Wallabies v Springboks – Brisbane
Saturday, September 7: All Blacks v Pumas – Hamilton
Saturday, September 14: Wallabies v Pumas – Perth
Saturday, September 14: All Blacks v Springboks – Auckland
Saturday, September 21: Bye week
Saturday, September 28: Springboks v Wallabies – Cape Town
Saturday, September 28: Pumas v All Blacks – La Plata
Saturday, October 5: Springboks v All Blacks – Johannesburg
Saturday, October 5: Pumas v Wallabies – Rosario
Additional Bledisloe Cup Test:
Saturday, October 19: All Blacks v Wallabies – Dunedin