Giteau recalled, Genia and Cooper in halves for Wallabies
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Matt Giteau’s Wallabies exile is over, with the 92-cap veteran recalled to Australia’s team after a four-year absence to take on South Africa in the opening round of the Rugby Championship.
The 32-year-old, France-based Giteau will start at No. 12 on Saturday, outside the restored halves pairing of Will Genia and Quade Cooper, who’ll be starting a test as a combination for the first time since November 2013.
The Rugby Championship is in an abbreviated, one-round format this season as the four participating countries prepare for the World Cup starting in September.
So Australia coach Michael Cheika chose to install the experienced veterans immediately, naming them Thursday ahead of the incumbent combination of Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley.
“With new combinations comes a new level of energy to our team environment and Will, Quade and Matt certainly bring that,” Cheika said. “Matt is a true professional and his impact on the team dynamic has been immediate.”
Giteau was dropped from the Wallabies squad by Robbie Deans ahead of the 2011 World Cup and later moved to France to play for Toulon, making him ineligible for Australia. But a change in selection policies in April made Giteau and his Toulon teammate Drew Mitchell available again for national duties.
“From a body point of view, it took a bit of adjusting last week (but) ... I feel like I’ve adjusted well,” said Giteau, who described his reunion with Genia and Cooper as “very old times.” The last time they played side-by-side in the 9, 10, 12 combination was in November 2010, when Australia lost 35-18 to England at Twickenham.
“They’re quality players — great players. They’ve got the experience at Suncorp,” Giteau said of the Queensland halves. “Some great depth we’ve got in the squad — continually challenging each other ... always competing for the spot.”
Hooker Stephen Moore regained the captaincy from Michael Hooper, who was skipper last year in his absence. Hooper retained the starting No. 7 jersey, though, in a close tussle with David Pocock, who will start on the bench.
Pocock “has showed tremendous grit and termination to return to the Wallabies,” Cheika said. “To be out of the Wallabies environment for two years and return a better a player shows his character; it is something he, and this country, should be proud of.”
Giteau made his debut for Australia at age 20 in 2002 and played in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups as a versatile inside back. He admitted in March he’d been bitter after Deans dropped him in 2011, but that getting married, having children and moving to Europe had helped give him a healthier perspective and meant he didn’t spurn the chance of a return.
The Australian Rugby Union made that possible by relaxing its selection policy and extending selection eligibility to overseas-based veterans if they have played at least 60 tests and held a professional contract with the ARU for at least seven years.
Giteau will work with Tevita Kuridrani in the centers. His longtime teammate Adam Ashley-Cooper is on the wing, part of a back three that also includes Rob Horne and Israel Folau.
The giant lock Will Skelton will partner Rob Simmons in the second row, with Cheika adding bulk against the big South Africa pack. Former skipper James Horwill is the reserve lock on an experienced bench which also includes prop Greg Holmes, returning to the test squad for the first time since 2007, Phipps, Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua.
Australia has a strong record in Brisbane, and has lost only one match to South Africa at Suncorp Stadium, venue for Saturday’s match.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Rob Horne, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Will Skelton, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (captain) James Slipper. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio, Greg Holmes, James Horwill, David Pocock, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.