Australia coach Ewen McKenzie sprang a major surprise in his first team announcement yesterday by handing stand-off Matt Toomua his first cap and putting Quade Cooper on the bench for the Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.
Although trailed by leaks to the Australian media, Toomua’s selection for tomorrow’s match at Sydney’s Olympic stadium is a sensational reversal by McKenzie, who had been Cooper’s main cheerleader after he was dropped by previous coach Robbie Deans. “Quade was disappointed, as was every player not picked,” McKenzie said. “That’s the way it is, that’s the nature of the business. We’ve picked the guys who are doing what we want and are best-suited to what we want to do.”
Toomua is one of five uncapped players from the ACT Brumbies in the matchday 23 but the only one who starts, with scrum-half Nic White, centre Tevita Kuridrani, versatile lock/loose forward Scott Fardy and prop Scott Sio all on the bench.
“It’s performance orientated. The Brumbies have been playing great football all season,” added McKenzie. “The guys in form, the guys that are doing well, are the guys we’ve picked.”
The former Queensland Reds coach said he had no qualms about blooding so many uncapped players in a Test against the world champions.
“When’s the right time to debut? I don’t know,” he said. “You just pick guys when they’re ready and when you need them.”
Hugh McMeniman is included in the side at blindside flanker, earning a recall to win his 22nd cap after nearly five years in the international wilderness. “I’m just really excited to be back in the Wallabies squad,” said McMeniman. “There’s a lot of different guys now but they’re a really enthusiastic bunch of guys.”
The selection of Jesse Mogg at full-back, one of six Brumbies in the starting line-up and ten in the squad, could be an indication of the way the Wallabies will play.
“He’s got moments of brilliance in him,” McKenzie said. “He’s a very good attacking player.”
Australia: Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, James O’Connor, Matt Toomua, Will Genia, Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Hugh McMeniman, James Horwill (captain), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Subs: -aia Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani.