Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has ended Quade Cooper’s four and a bit year exile from Test match rugby by naming the mercurial playmaker at No.10 for Sunday’s Rugby Championship clash with the Springboks.
Noah Lolesio, 21, has impressed Rennie, but it was felt he would be best served by a break from the firing line after three ferocious matches against the All Blacks. He missed out on the squad altogether.
The match will also see skipper Michael Hooper equal George Gregan’s record for most Tests as Wallabies captain, when he leads the side out for the 59th time at Cbus Super Stadium.
There is a starting debut for Angus Bell, the youngest member of the squad as he joins hooker Folau Fainga’a and tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa in the front row, with the latter set to bring up his 50th appearance for the Wallabies.
After returning to the Test side on the bench last week, Izack Rodda earns a starting berth in the second row alongside Matt Philip.
“We’re thrilled for Quade that he’s earned another opportunity to pull on the gold jersey for his country,” said Rennie.
“He’s had a really positive impact since joining the group, put pressure on us as selectors and he’s excited to get out there and perform on Sunday night.
“The match is also a huge occasion for our leader Michael Hooper. He’s been in phenomenal form and to equal George Gregan’s record as the most Tests as captain of Australia is a testament to his leadership and resilience.”
Cooper, 33 last played an international – his 70th – on June 24, 2017 against Italy. He fell out with former coach Michael Cheika and a return looked highly unlikely until Rennie called him up for a coffee last month before adding him to the Wallabies for the trip to New Zealand, a day after the official squad was announced.
“It hasn’t been a focus of mine at all. I didn’t come into the squad thinking ‘I have to play a test’,” Cooper said last week.
“If I can grow as a rugby player, take that back to Japan, that’s a great reward for myself. Anything else outside of that is a bonus.”
Wallabies legend Will Genia told The Roar he was surprised that Cooper was not used in Bledisloe 3, adding changes had to be made after three straight Bledisloe wipeouts.
“Do you start Quade and put Noah on the bench?” said Genia. “You’ve got to make some changes, because it’s obviously not working.
“It’s all well and good to say, yeah, we’re doing things in patches, really well. But we’re still getting beaten by plenty.
“It would have been 50 points on the weekend if Beauden Barrett had brought his kicking boots.”
Rennie has remained upbeat publicly despite the three defeats.
“He’s right to stay positive,” said Genia.
“We are doing plenty of good things. Individually, certain players are playing really well. Tate McDermott has been excellent. Samu Kerevi came back and was the best player on the field, you’ve got Michael Hooper, obviously, setting the standard as he always does.
“And from a team perspective, we’re doing some really good things. As Dave said the only problem is we’re not doing for long enough.
“But we have to make changes because we’re losing and losing by plenty.
“You’ve got to find ways to see if you can rectify the fact that we’re not doing things for long enough. And maybe that comes down to personnel and selection.”
He felt that Australia might want to match South Africa’s physicality by bringing in Taniela Tupou from the start to match “fire with fire.”
While Rennie appears set to remove Lolesio from action, McDermott appears to be going nowhere.
He won praise from Springboks’ brilliant halfback Faf De Klerk when asked about him by The Roar this week.
“I think he’s an exciting young player,” de Klerk said. “He’s really threatening around the rucks and is a good player to watch.
“That’s sort of the nine that Australia wants now. They want a guy that’s really threatening, and even Nic White backing him up is a massive challenge there for us on on defense. I’m excited to see how he can grow and improve on his gameplay.”
De Klerk said the Springboks had watched the Bledisloe series closely and felt it was closer than scores suggested.
“I think we are under no illusion of what a great side, Australia is,” he said.
“Having watched those games, seeing how close they are to actually winning those games, if a few things went their way a few passes, stuck, maybe it could have been a different result.
“From personal experience playing over here, it’s always unbelievably tough. It’s always a massive physical challenge. And especially now the way Australia is playing these days, trying to almost run you off your feet, it’sgoing to be a massive challenge for us defensively.
“They’re a bunch of proud guys in a proud country, they’re going to come out with everything they have. We know if we don’t bring our best we’re probably going to get a hiding in this game.”
Genia believes the game is there to be won for Australia.
“Obviously, they’re the world champions and rightfully will go in as favourites,” he said. “But I think stylistically from a matchup point of view, we tend to give them trouble.
“While we may not play that upbeat tempo rugby as well as New Zealand, that certainly is the style that we play.
“So I think that helps us because if we can move them around, not let them get set and settled in a rhythm while moving the ball around and playing in an up tempo. I think we give ourselves a chance.”
1. Angus Bell (8 Tests)
2. Folau Fainga’a (17 Tests)
3. Allan Alaalatoa (49 Tests)
4. Izack Rodda (26 Tests)
5. Matt Philip (15 Tests)
6. Lachlan Swinton (4 Tests)
7. Michael Hooper (c) (111 Tests)
8. Rob Valetini (10 Tests)
9. Tate McDermott (8 Tests)
10. Quade Cooper (70 Tests)
11. Marika Koroibete (39 Tests)
12. Samu Kerevi (34 Tests)
13. Len Ikitau (5 Tests)
14. Andrew Kellaway (5 Tests)
15. Tom Banks (17 Tests)
16. Feleti Kaitu’u (debut)
17. James Slipper (106 Tests)
18. Taniela Tupou (31 Tests)
19. Rob Leota (debut)
20. Pete Samu (11 Tests)
21. Nic White (38 Tests)
22. Reece Hodge (49 Tests)
23. Jordan Petaia (10 Tests)