Quade Cooper says the pressure is on the Wallabies – not just him – to produce something “special” in Saturday’s daunting Bledisloe Cup clash in Wellington.
In a shock decision from coach Michael Cheika, Cooper has been thrown in at five-eighth to face New Zealand for his first Test appearance since last year’s World Cup.
The mercurial 28-year-old’s inclusion has triggered a shift to inside centre for Bernard Foley, along with a host of other changes made to the side that was destroyed 42-8 by the All Blacks in Sydney last weekend.
Cooper has historically struggled in New Zealand, where fans have targeted him for abuse and local media have run campaigns against him as `public enemy number one’ – but he’ll be ignoring the hype that will follow him over the coming days.
“It’s not about me against the All Blacks,” a steely-eyed Cooper told reporters on Thursday in Wellington.
“It’s about the Wallabies against the All Blacks, Australia against New Zealand.
“I’m not coming over here thinking I’ve got to do anything special to beat the All Blacks – we need to do something as a team.”
Cheika said Cooper was thoroughly deserving of the call-up but was careful to stress Foley’s move was not a “demotion”, saying he had been thinking about playing the pair together for some time.
“Knowing that some of our players in that position are either getting towards the end of their careers and also going overseas … the opportunity to put that together has come earlier,” he said.
“I’m sure they’ll be mixing and matching between 10 and 12 all night.”
The switch-up comes after Matt Giteau (broken ankle), Rob Horne (shoulder) and Matt Toomua (concussion) all copped injuries in Sydney last weekend as Australia recorded their biggest loss on home soil, leaving Cheika with a dire shortage of backline options.
There is another new face in the midfield with Samu Kerevi called up at outside centre, bumping the out-of-sorts Tevita Kuridrani to the bench.
“I think now’s the opportunity for Samu to put his stamp on the 13 jersey and try and own it, because the opportunity’s there,” Cheika said.
Experienced duo Rob Simmons and Ben McCalman, meanwhile, have been dropped from the squad entirely.
Simmons has been replaced by Adam Coleman and appears to be well and truly out of favour with Cheika, having also been dumped during June’s three-Test series against England, due to a lack of form.
Fardy returns to the No.6 jersey, with the hulking Will Skelton and potential debutant Reece Hodge among the reserves.
Australia have not held aloft the Bledisloe Cup for 13 years and haven’t won in New Zealand since 2001.
Wallabies (15-1): Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Dane Haylett-Petty, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Ala’alatoa, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Tevita Kuridrani, Reece Hodge, Nick Phipps.