Australia retained Berrick Barnes at fly-half and omitted Quade Cooper for this week’s Rugby Championship opener against world champion New Zealand. Juan Martin Hernandez will make his first start in more than three years for Argentina’s tournament debut in South Africa.
Barnes kept his starting spot at No. 10 after consecutive man-of-the-match performances against Wales in June. Dave Dennis will make his second start at blindside flanker in a back-row shuffle that moves Scott Higginbotham to No. 8. Anthony Fainga’a was picked at inside center in place of the injured Pat McCabe.
“Berrick played very well through June,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said in a televised news conference. “Quade isn’t at the top of his fitness yet, but he’s back in the game which is great. He’s working hard. He was obviously an option, but in the end it was pretty straightforward.”
Cooper, who helped Australia break its decade-long title drought in the Tri-Nations last year, has had limited match time since returning in May following a seven-month layoff with a knee injury sustained at the Rugby World Cup in October.
The Aug. 18 game at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium will be the teams’ first meeting since the All Blacks’ 20-6 win in the World Cup semifinal. As well as kicking off the expanded annual southern hemisphere championship, the game doubles as the first of three Bledisloe Cup Tests between the neighbors in 2012.
The Wallabies last won a Bledisloe Cup series outright in 2001 and this year is the first best-of-three contest for the trophy since 1998, having been played over two or four matches in the time since.
Winger Drew Mitchell, who was sidelined for most of the Super Rugby season because of an ankle injury, was included on the bench and may play his first Test for Australia since injuring his hamstring in the World Cup group stage.
“We needed cover in the outside backs,” Deans said of the decision to include Mitchell. “In terms of his best state he’s not there, but he’s well under way and his experience in this sort of cauldron is very valuable.”
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, who had faced each other in the Tri-Nations since 1996, will this year be joined by Argentina, which had previously been the only top-10 ranked team that didn’t play in an annual international tournament.
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan today named his team for the Pumas’ opener against the Springboks on Aug. 18 in Cape Town. Back-rower Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will captain a starting 15 featuring 12 players from last year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
Hernandez was chosen at fly-half for his first start since playing the last of his 32 Tests against England in June 2009. He’s been hampered by injuries including a damaged ligament in his right knee that required surgery.
Nicknamed “El Mago,” or the Magician, the 30-year-old Hernandez was shortlisted for the International Rugby Board’s Player of the Year award after helping the Pumas finish third at the 2007 World Cup.
AUSTRALIA: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Anthony Fainga’a, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (captain), Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell. ARGENTINA: Rodrigo Roncero, Eusebio Guinazu, Juan Figallo, Manuel Carizza, Patricio Albacete, Julio Farias Cabello, Alvaro Galindo, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), Nicolas Vergallo, Juan Martin Hernandez, Horacio Agulla, Santiago Fernandez, Marcelo Bosch, Gonzalo Camacho, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino. Reserves: Bruno Postiglioni, Marcos Ayerza, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Tomas Leonardi, Leonardo Senatore, Martin Landajo, Martin Rodriguez.