Australia recalled fly-half Quade Cooper and dropped full-back Kurtley Beale for this weekend’s Rugby Championship game against New Zealand, which made one change to the team that won the tournament opener.
Cooper, 24, will play his first Test this year after recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for seven months. His return shifts Berrick Barnes to inside center for the Aug. 25 match at Auckland’s Eden Park, where Australia hasn’t won since 1986.
Cooper, who helped the Wallabies break their decade-long title drought in the southern hemisphere championship in 2011, last featured for Australia in the Oct. 21 Rugby World Cup third-place playoff against Wales at the same stadium, which he left on crutches after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament.
“I’m back, I’m fit, I’m healthy and I’m ready to go,” Cooper told reporters in Sydney today.
Elsewhere in the backline, Adam Ashley-Cooper switches from the right wing to replace Beale at full-back, with Drew Mitchell taking over on the wing. Beale made several handling errors and missed a tackle in each of New Zealand’s two tries when the teams met in Sydney five days ago.
Michael Hooper comes in at openside flanker in place of injured captain David Pocock, who was ruled out for three months after injuring his knee in the opener. Scrum-half Will Genia will lead Australia.
In the front row, Ben Alexander replaces injured tighthead prop Sekope Kepu. Stephen Moore was called into the starting lineup at hooker after Tatafu Polota-Nau, who was named in the role earlier today, told the coaches that he wasn’t fit to play following a training session.
The seven reserves won’t be confirmed until after tomorrow’s training run at Eden Park, the team said in a statement. Polota-Nau, who has a buttock injury, may be included on the bench should he complete that session without discomfort.
“The team comes first,” Polota-Nau said. “Everyone needs to be at their peak if we are to give ourselves a chance.”
Australia must win to have any chance of getting back the Bledisloe Cup contested annually against the All Blacks. The Wallabies last held the trophy in 2002 and this year is the first best-of-three contest since 1998, the series having been played over two or four matches in the time since.
The Wallabies are rated the 6-1 outsider to win at Eden Park, their longest ever odds in a Test against New Zealand according to Tabcorp Holdings Ltd. (TAH), Australia’s largest owner of betting shops. They’ve lost their past 12 matches there against the All Blacks.
“That’s the position we’re in,” Mitchell told reporters. “We have an opportunity this weekend to go out there and make a difference and change what has been, in all of our opinions, a hoodoo that’s gone for too long.”
World champion New Zealand earlier made one enforced change to the team that started the 27-19 win in Sydney, with Wyatt Crockett coming in at loosehead prop for Tony Woodcock, who has a rib injury.
“We are expecting that Australia will take a step up in their intensity after last weekend’s loss and we will have to be ready for that challenge,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said in an e-mailed statement.
Tournament newcomer Argentina makes its home debut in two days against South Africa in Mendoza. The Springboks won last week’s encounter between the teams in Cape Town 27-6. Both teams already named their lineups for the match.
AUSTRALIA: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia (captain), Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Reserves: To be announced.
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett.
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