Australia’s Quade Cooper in action – Reuters
REUTERS: Australia have dropped flyhalf Quade Cooper for Saturday’s test against New Zealand at Eden Park, where the All Blacks will be going for a record 18th successive test victory.
Wallabies Coach Michael Cheika, who delayed the naming of his team until Friday, made four changes to the side that finished the Rugby Championship with a victory over Argentina.
Standout loose forward David Pocock returns from injury to take a place on the bench with the pack unchanged from that which started the match against the Pumas at Twickenham.
New Zealand-born Cooper, who has struggled at Eden Park in the past, drops to the bench and will be replaced in the number 10 shirt by Bernard Foley, who played at inside centre for most of the Rugby Championship.
Foley will be reunited in a halfback partnership with his New South Wales Waratahs team mate Nick Phipps, who comes into the starting line-up for Will Genia. Genia has returned to club duties in France.
Reece Hodge moves inside from the wing to strike up a midfield partnership with Samu Kerevi, allowing Fiji-born winger Henry Speight a first start for the Wallabies since last year’s World Cup.
Cheika said Cooper’s benching was less about the player and more about trying a new midfield combination, with Hodge getting his first start in his preferred number 12 shirt after an impressive first five tests as an outside back.
“Testing new ideas on the bigger stage, some people might not think is the right time but I think that’s the place you see if it’s really something that can work in the future,” he told reporters in Auckland.
All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen predicted the dropping of Cooper and the move of Hodge to the centres in his pre-match media conference on Thursday.
Cheika denied there were mind games behind the squad’s late release, saying it was necessary to assess injuries, and joked about Hansen’s foresight.
“He must have known somehow. I’m not quite sure (how) because the bug is gone,” he said, referring to the listening device that was found in the All Blacks’ Sydney hotel before the teams played in August.
New Zealand will retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 13th straight year regardless of the result of Saturday’s match after back-to-back victories over Australia in August.
Team: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Dane Haylett-Petty, 13-Samu Kerevi, 12-Reece Hodge, 11-Henry Speight, 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Nick Phipps, 8-Lopeti Timani, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Dean Mumm, 5-Adam Coleman, 4-Rory Arnold, 3-Sekope Kepu, 2-Stephen Moore (captain), 1-Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16-James Hanson, 17-Tom Robertson, 18-Alan Alaalatoa, 19-Rob Simmons, 20-David Pocock, 21-Nick Frisby, 22-Quade Cooper, 23-Sefa Naivalu.