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Qantas Wallabies flyhalf Quade Cooper returns to the starting line-up to ignite an Australian backline that sees Israel Folau shift to fullback for Saturday night’s crucial Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship clash against the Springboks at Suncorp Stadium.
The injection of Cooper and the shift from the wing to fullback for Folau represents two of the four changes made to the starting XV, which also include Sekope Kepu and Nick Cummins receiving an opportunity at tighthead prop and on the wing respectively.
On the bench Queensland Reds backrower Jake Schatz is in line to make his long-awaited Test debut after spending the opening fortnight of the tournament as the Qantas Wallabies 24th man for clashes against New Zealand.
The selection of Cooper at flyhalf reunites the successful playmaking partnership he shares with scrumhalf Will Genia at a venue where the pair have achieved tremendous results for both the Qantas Wallabies and at a Super Rugby level with the Queensland Reds.
Among those was the decisive Tri Nations-winning victory over the All Blacks in 2011 only months after Queensland won their maiden Super Rugby title at Suncorp Stadium.
Saturday’s contest is the first time Cooper has worn the number 10 jersey for Australia since the Qantas Wallabies defeated South Africa and Argentina in back-to-back Tests in September last year.
Cooper also holds a commanding record against South African opposition having won seven of his nine total matches against the Springboks, including his past five.
His record is indicative of the success Australia has had against South Africa in recent times, especially at Suncorp Stadium, where the Qantas Wallabies are unbeaten in their past seven games.
“We have very specific thoughts about how we want to play this game and feel Quade is best suited to carrying that out,” Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said.
“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.
“It has been almost 12 months since he last started a Test match and I’m sure there were times where he wondered if he would wear the number 10 jersey again. 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.”
A week after re-committing his future to Australia Rugby, flyer Israel Folau gets his first opportunity to wear the number 15 jersey for the Qantas Wallabies after his previous five appearances came on the wing, scoring three tries.
However, the 2013 Super Rugby Rookie of the Year now gets a chance in the same position he proved a sensation at during his debut season for the NSW Waratahs, where he finished the year as the competition’s second leading try scorer with eight.
His move opens the door for Western Force winger Nick Cummins, who will be determined to make the most of his first opportunity in 2013 and improve on the six Test caps he has earned since debuting against Argentina last year.
Cummins has served Australia well with each chance he has been given, winning four and drawing one Test, although Saturday represents his first game against the Springboks.
Prop Sekope Kepu has featured in all five games for Australia in 2013 but Saturday’s match against the Springboks is his first in a starting jersey this year.
Backrower Jake Schatz caps off a stellar week which commenced with the 23-year-old winning the Queensland Reds prestigious Pilecki Medal for Players’ Player of the Year at their annual awards evening.
McKenzie said he expected all of the changes to positively influence the game.
“Israel has played more fullback than on the wing so he will undoubtedly feel comfortable playing the position. He has looked impressive at training and we think he will add value with how we want to approach the game,” he said.
“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.
“Up front Keps has been on the fringes but he is a very good technician of the game, which is important as everyone continues to work out the new scrum laws. We’ve got a lot of good players in this space and for this week Keps deserves an opportunity to start.
“Jake has been a continuously improving player for as long as I have known him and that was reflected in his Pilecki Medal honour. Winning that award is the ultimate recognition of consistency over a period of time.
“He will bring a bunch of attributes to the game and can cover all three backrow positions, along with being a very good lineout jumper.”
The Qantas Wallabies enter the match with possession of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate and will retain the silverware for a fourth straight year with a victory at Suncorp Stadium.
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The Qantas Wallabies side to play South Africa in the opening Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate and Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship match at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday 7 September is:
1. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
2. Stephen Moore (ACT Brumbies)
3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
4. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
5. James Horwill (c – Queensland Reds)
6. Scott Fardy (ACT Brumbies)
7. Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs)
8. Ben Mowen (ACT Brumbies)
9. Will Genia (vc – Queensland Reds)
10. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
11. James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels)
12. Christian Leali’ifano (ACT Brumbies)
13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
14. Nick Cummins (Western Force)
15. Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs)
16. Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
17. Scott Sio (ACT Brumbies)
18. Ben Alexander (ACT Brumbies)
19. Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs)
20. Jake Schatz (Queensland Reds)*
21. Nic White (ACT Brumbies)
22. Matt Toomua (ACT Brumbies)
23. Jesse Mogg (ACT Brumbies)