Quade Cooper will be the central figure as Australia and South Africa lock horns for the first time in this year’s Rugby Championship, and the enigmatic flyhalf’s stage will be one of his favourite grounds: Suncorp Stadium.
Australia could barely have imagined a tougher start to the 2013 Championship, losing twice to New Zealand to leave them bottom of the table—without a point.
The Springboks, by contrast, are top of the standings after two wins over Argentina, and both sides have made changes to their lineups for Saturday’s crucial clash.
Here's a look at both teams.
Australia Team (via the Wallabies' official website)
15 Israel Folau, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali’ifano, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper
16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jesse Mogg
South Africa Team (via the Springboks' official website)
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen,19 Juandre Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein
Australia’s lineup features four changes in total from the team that lost 27-16 to New Zealand in Wellington. The two most notable decisions are Cooper’s return and Israel Folau’s switch to fullback.
Folau, so lethal in the recent series against the British and Irish Lions, saw little ball in the opening two Tests against the All Blacks, so the shift to 15 should invigorate the powerful 24-year-old.
The match will represent Folau’s first at fullback, after having scored three tries in five appearances on the wing.
Cooper’s half-back combination with Will Genia exudes imagination, and the pair have happy memories of Suncorp Stadium, where they combined to win the Super Rugby title for Queensland Reds and beat the All Blacks—both in 2011. Ewen McKenzie elaborated on his decision to reunite the pair, according to the AAP via The Guardian:
We have very specific thoughts about how we want to play this game and feel Quade is best suited to carrying that out.
He is an experienced and successful Test player, which is handy to have against a hardened Springboks outfit.
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.
Australia’s other changes see Sekope Kepu and Nick Cummins drafted in.
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has made three personnel alterations from the side that beat Argentina 22-17, with Bismarck du Plessis and Flip van der Merwe added to the pack.
Zane Kirchner is also a notable selection at fullback, his first Test appearance of the year, meaning Bryan Habana moves to the left wing, with Willie le Roux shifting to the right.
The Wallabies go into the match in possession of the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate and are looking to retain the silverware for a fourth straight year.
Based on results, the balance is heavily in South Africa’s favour, but the Aussies were much improved against New Zealand and could have established a significant first-half lead had refereeing calls not gone against them.
The Springboks were battle-hardened, rather than impressive, against Argentina, and Australia’s desperation for a win will see them take this one.
Australia 22-18 South Africa