The group that recently hooked Australia’s first Tri Nations title in a decade have been rewarded for that performance by being retained as a unit for Sunday’s Rugby World Cup Pool C opener against Italy at North Harbour Stadium after the team was announced today.
Australia beat New Zealand 25-20 at Brisbane 11 days ago to clinch the Southern Hemisphere championship.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and his fellow selectors, Coaching coordination David Nucifora and Assistant Coach Jim Williams, have chosen to make no changes to the starting XV from that occasion for this weekend’s assignment.
This decision means that Queensland Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper will retain the goal-kicking duties, after returning four from six in the pressure-filled atmosphere last time out. While no place has been found amongst the run on group for regular goal-kicker James O’Connor, who is returning from a one match disciplinary suspension; the 21-year-old, who spent the early years of his life in Auckland, has been included on the substitutes bench.
The selection of O’Connor is one of three changes to the bench from that fielded in Brisbane, with front-rowers hooker Tatafu Polota Nau and prop James Slipper returning from injury. Slipper and Polota Nau both made their playing comebacks recently for the Australian Barbarians during the 38-14 win over Canada on the Gold Coast.
Four of the players selected in the match night squad today boast previous Rugby World Cup experience.
Second rower Dan Vickerman, who will play his 59th Test, features in his third tournament after appearing in the 2003 and 2007 editions of the event, while winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, flanker Rocky Elsom and hooker Stephen Moore all attended the sixth Rugby World Cup in France four years ago.
While Australia has never been defeated by Italy, the Azzurri have caused their share of problems for the Wallabies in recent meetings, with the tourists needing a late try to escape in Padua in 2008, and also being flattered by a final minute try during a competitive 32-14 win last November in Florence.
Just seven of Australia’s starting line up from last year’s contest – fullback Kurtley Beale, winger Ashley-Cooper, Cooper, flankers David Pocock and Elsom, prop Ben Alexander and hooker Moore – will also start this weekend.
Italy has since beaten France in the Six Nations, with Deans warning his men that they must move on from the emotion of last month’s Tri Nations success quickly.
“They’re a good team,” he says of the Italians. “They showed it when they beat France earlier in the year, they should have beaten Ireland in that tournament as well, and have also shown it playing against Australia in recent years.
“As a jump off point for the tournament, this match is critical. Italy will test us, especially at the set piece. If we are not up to the mark in all aspects of our game, we will be vulnerable. We have recent experience of that earlier in the year [during the loss] against Samoa.”
While Italy has competed at all six previous Rugby World Cups, the Azzurri has never made the tournament’s second round.
Deans believes that goal is within reach for the Italians this time around, after watching on in person as Italy was edged by a late Ronan O’Gara dropped goal during an 11-13 defeat to Pool C rivals Ireland at Rome during the opening match of the last Six Nations.
“Their belief in terms of being able to perform more consistently at this level is growing,” Deans says. “I saw that in Rome earlier in the year and it manifested itself later in the Six Nations when they knocked off France. They’ll be determined to make a statement first up in this tournament, and will see this as a great time to be getting us!”
Australia v Italy – North Harbour Stadium, Auckland on Sunday (4:30 BST)
15. Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs)
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies)
13. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds)
9. Will Genia (Queensland Reds)
8. Radike Samo (Queensland Reds)
7. David Pocock (Western Force)
6. Rocky Elsom (Brumbies)
5. James Horwill (Queensland Reds, captain)
4. Dan Vickerman (NSW Waratahs)
3. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
1. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
16. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
17. James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Ben McCalman (Western Force)
20. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
21. Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs)
22. James O’Connor (Western Force)