The Wallabies have dropped a selection bombshell by naming enigmatic playmaker Quade Cooper to start at five-eighth for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park.
Cooper is one of six changes to coach Michael Cheika’s starting team which upset the All Blacks 27-19 to claim the Rugby Championship last weekend and set up their first Bledisloe decider since 2008.
With the chance to win the Bledisloe for the first time in 13 years and end a 29-year winless streak at Eden Park ahead of next month’s World Cup, the wholesale changes to a team that beat the world champions represents a controversial call by Cheika.
The selection of a rocks and diamonds-type player like Cooper has come as a huge surprise given Matt Toomua’s outstanding and assured performance coming off the bench to play No.10 last weekend.
Toomua has been promoted to a starting spot, but will be at inside centre with veteran Matt Giteau pushed to the bench.
Going with Cooper leaves the Wallabies vulnerable defensively and the All Blacks will be confident they can get into the five-eighth’s head and throw him off his game as they have done in the past.
Cooper had mixed performances when he played in the Wallabies’ earlier wins this season over South Africa and Argentina and has history with New Zealand crowds who booed him mercilessly during the 2011 World Cup due to his prior run-ins with All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.
Queensland Reds star Cooper takes the place of Bernard Foley and teams up with new starting halfback Nic White, who comes in for Nick Phipps after starring off the bench in last Saturday’s win.
Master ball-pilferer David Pocock has been relegated to the bench, making way for Wycliff Palu to play his first Test of 2015 at No.8 while Will Skelton will start in place of Dean Mumm in the second-row.
In other changes, winger Henry Speight comes in for veteran Drew Mitchell, while lock Kane Douglas has been named on the bench for what will be his first appearance for the Wallabies since returning from club rugby in Ireland.
“We know this week will be another huge challenge for the team and our biggest test to date, and we need to improve again on what we’ve produced in our previous matches,” Cheika said on Thursday.
“Wycliff, Henry and Kane have all worked hard for this opportunity and have brought a lot of energy to the group this week.”
Wallabies (15-1): Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Will Skelton, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Kane Douglas, Dean Mumm, David Pocock, Matt Giteau, Kurtley Beale.