Australia made seven changes to its starting lineup for this week’s Tri-Nations rugby opener against South Africa as it tries to rebound from an upset loss to Samoa.
James Horwill, who led the Queensland Reds to this year’s Super Rugby title, returns for the first time since 2009 and will partner Rob Simmons in the second row. Full-back Kurtley Beale, winger James O’Connor, fly-half Quade Cooper, scrum-half Will Genia and openside flanker David Pocock were also recalled. South Africa named four Test rookies in its 22-man squad.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said that the starting 15 is close to his strongest available lineup. Third-ranked Australia opens the southern hemisphere’s annual championship against the Springboks on July 23 at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, six days after beginning its 2011 campaign there with a 32-23 defeat to Samoa.
“Last Sunday was a massive wakeup call for the group,” Deans said today. “We can’t turn back the clock on that performance, it will stay with us as a reminder, but we do have total control as to how we respond.”
Pat McCabe was retained at inside center ahead of Anthony Fainga’a and Matt Giteau, who was omitted from the 22-man squad after playing at fly-half against Samoa. The Pacific Island team, which entered the match as the 12-1 outsider, had only managed a total of 26 points in four previous defeats to Australia.
The Wallabies, who last won the Tri-Nations in 2001, were criticized by former players and the Australian media for resting several starting regulars and not treating the Samoans with enough respect. Deans said after the game that Australia had been overpowered in the physical exchanges against their 10th-ranked opponents.
“We’ve had that jolt but you can’t presume that we’ll be better for that,” Deans said today at a televised news conference. “We’ve got to make it good.”
South Africa, which left 21 injured players including locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha at home for its matches in Australia and New Zealand, handed Test debuts to Dean Greyling and Werner Kruger, and No. 8 Ashley Johnson. Scrum-half Charl McLeod may join them after being named on the reserves’ bench.
The team will be led by John Smit, one of five players in the starting lineup to feature in South Africa’s 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning squad.
The Springboks, who took over the No. 2 spot in the International Rugby Board’s rankings following Australia’s loss to Samoa, will defend their title in September and October in New Zealand.
“The Tri-Nations is a perfect opportunity to be able to play against the best teams in the world and see where you are before you actually get over to New Zealand,” Smit said at a news conference in Sydney. “We’ve got to be very careful that we concentrate on where we are right now rather than think about where we could be in a couple of months’ time.”
AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley- Cooper, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Ben McCalman, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom (captain), James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu.
SOUTH AFRICA: Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Juan de Jongh, Wynand Olivier, Lwazi Mvovo, Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Ashley Johnson, Danie Rossouw, Deon Stegmann, Johann Muller, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, John Smit (captain), Dean Greyling.
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, CJ van der Linde, Alistair Hargreaves, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Adrian Jacobs, Patrick Lambie.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org