It marks the end of a four-year international absence for the fly-half, who is poised to earn his 71st cap on the Gold Coast, more than four years after his last appearance for the Wallabies.
Cooper, 33, replaces Noah Lolesio in the line-up after the Brumbies youngster started all six of Australia’s Tests thus far in 2021, including the Bledisloe Cup series sweep defeat to New Zealand.
The back line is otherwise unchanged at Cbus Super Stadium, while loosehead prop Angus Bell and lock Izack Rodda are the new faces among the forwards.
Getty Images for the ARU)
Lolesio has been dropped altogether from the squad, and the coach was pleased to welcome Cooper—who plays for Kintetsu Liners in Japan—back for what’s sure to be another difficult test.
“We’re thrilled for Quade that he’s earned another opportunity to pull on the gold jersey for his country,” Rennie said.
“He’s had a really positive impact since joining the group, put pressure on us as selectors and he’s excited to get out there and perform on Sunday night.”
The Wallabies are in need of a positive result after losing three times in as many meetings with the All Blacks, most recently slumping to a 38-21 defeat in Perth last Sunday.
But Rennie assured Cooper’s comeback wasn’t a move made out of desperation, adding: “There’s certainly no panic. We’re basing our selections on what we see.
“Some guys’ selections are based on recent Test matches. For Quade it has been training, he has trained really well and was very close to selection last week.
“We are trying to grow our game and we think he’s the right man to help get us around the park.”
Michael Hooper will also celebrate a special landmark when he leads Australia out for the 59th time, equalling George Gregan’s record for the most appearances as Wallabies captain.
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The openside flanker first captained his country in 2014 and became a mainstay as skipper soon after, while Hooper’s 112th cap will make him Australia’s fifth-most experienced player outright.
He’ll move clear of another Wallabies back-row great, George Smith, and requires only a further 27 caps to pull level with all-time record-holder Gregan (139 caps).
Hooker Allan Alaalatoa will also earn his 50th Test cap against the Springboks, as will Reece Hodge when he comes off the bench
Samu Kerevi and len Ikitau clearly impressed last weekend against the All Blacks even in defeat, with Rennie retaining the same pair at centre despite Hunter Paisami’s return to the squad.
In the pack, Rodda replaces Matt Philip at lock to make his first start since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, while Bell takes over for veteran James Slipper at loosehead.
South Africa No. 8 Duane Vermeulen is also poised to end an absence stretching back to the last World Cup, returning to the Springboks XV alongside fit-again scrum-half Faf de Klerk.
The Wallabies are yet to claim a point in the Rugby Championship and hope Cooper can help get them off the mark, while South Africa have their sights set on reclaiming top spot in the table.
Australia team to face South Africa
(Backs) Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Tate McDermott; (Forwards) Rob Valentini, Michael Hooper (c), Lachlan Swinton, Darcy Swain, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, Angus Bell
Reps: Feleti Kaitu’u, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Nic White, Reece Hodge, Jordan Petaia