The Wallabies have made a shock move by turning to veteran playmaker Quade Cooper following coach Dave Rennie’s squad selection being hit by border closures.
- Cooper last represented the Wallabies in 2017
- Most recently, he has played in Japan with Kintetsu Liners
- The New Zealand-born five-eighth is not an Australian citizen
Cooper joined the Australian training camp in Queensland on Sunday, as did another former Reds playmaker, Duncan Paia’aua, who played for Queensland for five seasons before moving to French club Toulon in 2019.
The pair has been called up to the 42-man squad, with Rennie revealing five-eighth James O’Connor will not be available for the Bledisloe Cup after re-injuring his groin during the recent French series.
Queensland has closed its borders to people from NSW and Victoria, meaning young Waratah 10s Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson are unavailable.
Cooper’s selection comes as the New Zealand-born pivot continues his fight for Australian citizenship, revealing to the ABC last week his application had been repeatedly knocked back.
Fresh off the Wallabies’ first home series win since 2014, Rennie named a largely similar squad to that which defeated France 2-1.
World Cup lock Izack Rodda, along with Western Force teammate and prop Tom Robertson have been recalled, while young Brumbies lock Nick Frost is the only new face.
Veterans Wallabies Nic White and Scott Sio have overcome knee and hamstring injuries respectively, along with centre/winger Jordan Petaia (quad).
Rennie was asked on Sunday if 33-year-old Cooper, who has most recently been playing in Japan, “had been training” with the Wallabies, and answered that he had not.
But that will change on Monday, with the 70-Test veteran back in action and also set to travel with the Wallabies to New Zealand ahead of the opening Test on August 7.
Paia’aua has only played once for the Wallabies — against the Barbarians in 2017 — with Rennie utilising the new Giteau Law dispensation which allows him to pick two players without the mandated 60 caps.
Rennie said the COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW and Victoria had “limited our options” in player selections.
“There is no chance of getting anyone out of those states to come in part way through this campaign so we’re looking at worst-case scenario and making sure we’ve got quality depth in all spots,” Rennie said.
The coach likened 26-year-old Paia’aua to a Reece Hodge, offering utility value with his ability to cover a number of positions.
“He’s very versatile and covers a number of spots and so I guess it’s the chance for us to bring him in, and cast an eye over him,” Rennie said.
“I’ve seen him play at fair bit of footy and he’s certainly a player capable of playing to this level.”
Rennie said former Test centre Samu Kerevi might come into the reckoning for the Rugby Championship when his Olympic sevens commitments were over.
Star NRL recruit Suliasi Vunivalu is also pencilled in for those Tests after undergoing hamstring surgery.
Undergoing COVID-19 testing every few days, the Wallabies group will get an exemption to fly out on Friday, with the trans-Tasman travel border suspended for eight weeks from then.
The Test schedule is set to be changed to play two Tests on consecutive weekends in New Zealand before the Perth Test on August 21.
Wallabies squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Banks, Angus Bell, Pone Fa’amausili, Lalakai Foketi, Nick Frost, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Michael Hooper (c), Len Ikitau, Feleti Kaitu’u, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Rob Leota, Noah Lolesio, Lachlan Lonergan, Ryan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReight, Andy Muirhead, Isi Naisarani, James O’Connor, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Duncan Paia’aua, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaia, Matt Philip, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain, Lachlan Swinton, Matt To’omua, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Rob Valetini, Nic White, Harry Wilson, Tom Wright.