SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia and Argentina are banking on experienced flyhalves with very different qualities as they look to turn over South Africa and New Zealand when the Rugby Championship arrives in Queensland this weekend.
The final four rounds of the annual southern hemisphere test championship will be played in double headers on the northeast coast of Australia, starting on Sunday at Robina Stadium on the Gold Coast.
The world champion Springboks arrived in Australia after beating the Pumas in their first two matches, while the All Blacks also have a 100% record after two convincing victories over the Wallabies.
Australia coach Dave Rennie sprung a major surprise on Friday by naming Quade Cooper at flyhalf for their match against South Africa, bringing the mercurial playmaking talent back to the test arena for the first time in four years.
Cooper’s selection would indicate that the Wallabies will look to move the ball around against a powerful and settled Springboks side who completed a series triumph over the British and Irish Lions last month.
“We’re picking the guy who we think can do the best job for us, based on the cattle we’ve got,” Rennie told reporters.
“We don’t want to be conservative but we don’t to be reckless either.”
Cooper has a 9-5 record against the Springboks in 14 previous tests, while Australia have not lost to the South Africans on home soil since 2013.
The Springboks are a different team from even just a few years ago, however, and although missing injured winger Cheslin Kolbe, coach Jacques Nienaber was able to recall back row behemoth Duane Vermeulen into an already impressive line-up.
While the Australians will be hoping Cooper can help spring a few surprises, the recall of Nicolas Sanchez to the Argentina side means the All Blacks will know exactly what to expect from the Pumas in Sunday’s opening match.
The experienced playmaker, an expert in the arts of game management and accurate place-kicking, scored all of his team’s points when the Argentines registered their first ever win over New Zealand in Sydney last season.
“They’re a well-organised team defensively, they know how they want to play and they stick to that,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster said on Friday.
“I can see them being pretty well rested and pretty passionate about this game.”
The wealth of talent at Foster’s disposal means he was able to rest Ardie Savea despite the stand-in captain passing concussion protocols after taking a knock to the head against the Wallabies last week.
Luke Jacobson replaces Savea at number eight, while lock Brodie Retallick gets his first chance to captain his country in his 87th test.
“Brodie is a great leader in this team and we don’t take his leadership for granted,” said Foster.
(Editing by Toby Davis)
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