Ashley-Cooper, Palu bolster Oz
Adam Ashely-Cooper (Gallo)
Sydney - Seasoned Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper and Wycliff Palu will return to the injury-depleted Australian side for this weekend's Test against New Zealand in a boost to under-fire coach Robbie Deans.
The Brisbane clash is a dead rubber in the annual Bledisloe Cup tussle between the rivals, with the All Blacks winning the opening two games, but Saturday's match is seen as an important Test for Deans and his troubled side.
Australia finished second in the recent four-nations Rugby Championship tournament, ahead of Argentina and South Africa but lagging world champions New Zealand after a humiliating 22-0 defeat in their second meeting.
Deans has presided over just three victories from 17 games against the ascendant All Blacks in the past four years and scrutiny has mounted during an inconsistent 2012 campaign marred by injuries to several key players.
Accusations of a "toxic" and dysfunctional environment within the camp from controversial playmaker Quade Cooper have been a further distraction.
Deans welcomed the return to the starting XV of Ashley-Cooper, sidelined with concussion after last month's 31-8 trouncing by the Springboks, and Palu, who missed the Rugby Championship due to a Super Rugby shoulder injury.
"They're both proven Test performers so it is good to have them back," the Wallabies coach said.
Deans was especially pleased to see the versatile Ashley-Cooper back in action, describing his skill and 72-cap experience as an invaluable asset for the relatively young side.
Ashley-Cooper has scored six tries against the Kiwis - only two other Australian players in history have a better record - and Deans will be hoping he is in top form with New Zealand on an uninterrupted 16-game winning streak.
"The All Blacks are the benchmark and proved it again through the Rugby Championship. They are a step up from where we've been," said Deans.
"But the guys have shown a lot of resilience over the last two months, and they're excited about the opportunity ahead of them on the weekend."
Waratahs wing Drew Mitchell is another welcome return from injury for Deans, starting on the bench in place of Digby Ioane, who hurt his knee in the Wallabies' last outing, when they beat Argentina 25-19 in Rosario.
Fiji-born second-rower Radike Samo is being rested ahead of Australia's spring tour of Europe next month, with Palu taking his place.
Mike Harris retains goal-kicking duties at fullback after impressing in Argentina, with veteran lock Nathan Sharpe to skipper the side for what will be his 112th Test cap for Australia.
Australia 15 Mike Harris, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11
Adam-Ashley Cooper, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7
Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Sitaleki
Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Substitutes: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Kane Douglas, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Drew Mitchell