Quade Cooper will complete a remarkable return to Test rugby on Sunday when he pulls on the Wallabies shirt for the first time since 2017 in the Rugby Championship clash with South Africa.
Cooper, a veteran of 70 Tests whose last outing came against Italy in Brisbane more four years ago, was on Friday named as starting No 10 in place on the out-of-form Noah Lolesio.
The unlikely return comes four years after his career stalled at the Queensland Reds, where he was frozen out of the team by coach Brad Thorn. Spells at the Melbourne Rebels and Kintetsu Liners in Japan followed, before his surprise inclusion in the Bledisloe Cup squad was announced in July.
It marks an apparent shift in the youth policy recently employed by coach Dave Rennie, with the 33-year-old’s experience to be drawn on as the Wallabies seek to get their Rugby Championship campaign back on track against the reigning world champions following back-to-back defeats to New Zealand.
Rennie said Cooper, who has been involved in nine wins over the Springboks throughout his career, had earned the opportunity to represent his country once again.
“He’s had a really positive impact since joining the group, put pressure on us as selectors and he’s excited to get out there and perform on Sunday night,” Rennie said.
The match on the Gold Coast also serves as a landmark for captain Michael Hooper who will equal George Gregan’s record for most Tests as Wallabies captain, when he leads his side out for a 59th time at Cbus Super Stadium.
Angus Bell, the youngest member of the squad, has been given the nod to make his international starting debut alongside hooker Folau Fainga’a and tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa in the front row. Alaalatoa’s appearance brings up his 50th international cap.
Izack Rodda, who featured off the bench in last week’s Bledisloe Cup defeat to the All Blacks, also wins a starting berth and will play in the second row alongside Matt Philip, while a backrow featuring Lachlan Swinton, Rob Valetini and Hooper, remains unchanged.
Cooper is joined by Tate McDermott in the halves, while the midfield pairing of Samu Kerevi and Len Ikitau remains unbroken.
“The match is also a huge occasion for our leader Michael Hooper,” Rennie said. “He’s been in phenomenal form and to equal George Gregan’s record as the most Tests as captain of Australia is a testament to his leadership and resilience.
“We also can’t overlook Allan and Reece [Hodge, named on the bench] who will bring up 50 Tests for their country, another outstanding achievement for two ultimate professionals who leave it all on the field every time they wear the jersey.”
The Wallabies must win Sunday’s night game if they are to retain any realistic hope of challenging for the Rugby Championship title. Two defeats to the All Blacks to kick off the tournament as part of a Bledisloe series they lost 3-0 have put Rennie’s team on the back foot. South Africa also boast two wins from their opening two matches.
Australia: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Tate McDermott, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper( captain), Lachlan Swinton, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell. Reserves: Feleti Kaitu’u, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia.