Quade Cooper, Israel Folau headline changes
September 4, 2013
Quade Cooper has not started a Test since September 2012 © PA Photos
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has made four changes to his starting side for the Nelson Mandela Plate Test against South Africa at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
Quade Cooper is recalled to the starting side at fly-half with Israel Folau switched from the right wing to fullback, while Sekope Kepu and Nick Cummins are handed opportunities at tight-head prop and on the right wing respectively. Queensland Reds back-rower Jake Schatz is called on to the bench to sit in line for his Test debut after spending the opening fortnight of The Rugby Championship as the 24th man for the Bledisloe Cup Tests against New Zealand.
Cooper's selection at fly-half, replacing Matt Toomua, who drops to the bench, reunites the successful playmaking partnership he shares with scrum-half Will Genia at a venue where the pair have achieved tremendous results for both the Wallabies and at Super Rugby level with Queensland Reds. Among those was the decisive Tri Nations-winning victory over the All Blacks in 2011 months after Queensland had won their maiden Super Rugby title at Suncorp Stadium.
Quade Cooper is back in the starting side for the first time in 12 months
"We have very specific thoughts about how we want to play this game and feel Quade is best suited to carrying that out," Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said, noting the playmaker boasts a commanding record against South Africa having won seven of his nine Tests against the Springboks, including his past five.
"He's been part of our matchday squad in both games so far but his role now changes from being a finisher to starting the game. We feel that role will suit how we want to play. He is also an experienced and successful Test player, which is handy to have against a hardened Springboks outfit.
Cooper has not worn the Wallabies' No.10 jumper since the victories over South Africa and Argentina in back-to-back Tests in September 2012, but McKenzie said "he's worked really hard both on and off the field to now get that chance".
"He's carried himself extremely well all year and during the last fortnight in the role we've asked him to complete. Now, he gets a chance to make an impact from the start of the game. That also means we're asking Matt to fulfil a new role this week. He has had a great season so far and his form was reflected in our decision to choose him for the opening two Test matches. He's still in our Test squad and will have a part to play in our success this week and moving forward."
Israel Folau starred at fullback for New South Wales Waratahs © Getty Images
McKenzie, meanwhile, recognised the strikepower of Folau by selecting him at fullback after five appearances on the wing, giving the Australian Super Rugby Rookie of the Year a chance in the position in which he proved a sensation during his debut season for New South Wales Waratahs, for whom he scored eight tries. Folau's selection at No.15 opened the door for Cummins to make his first Test start of 2013 having won six caps in 2012.
"Israel has played more fullback than on the wing so he will undoubtedly feel comfortable playing the position," McKenzie said. "He has looked impressive at training and we think he will add value with how we want to approach the game. Once we made the decision to move Israel, it opened the door for another player on the wing. The Springboks are an abrasive and physical team, and we feel Nick's style of play will suit that."
McKenzie said of the other two changes that Kepu was "a very good technician of the game, which is important as everyone continues to work out the new scrum laws" while Schatz would "bring a bunch of attributes to the game and can cover all three back-row positions, along with being a very good lineout jumper".
Wallabies: Israel Folau; Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali'ifano, James O'Connor; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy; James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Replacements: Saia Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Kane Douglas, Jake Schatz, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Jesse Mogg.
Follow live text commentary of the Mandela Challenge Plate Test between Australia and South Africa on Saturday, September 7, from 730pm (AEST), 1130am (SAST), 930am (GMT)
Sekope Kepu featured for Randwick in Sydney's Shute Shield last week © www.seiserphotography.com
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