Deans: Quade is no distraction
Robbie Deans (Getty Images)
Johannesburg - Kurtley Beale will start his first Test for Australia at flyhalf on Saturday, replacing controversial playmaker Quade Cooper for the Rugby Championship game against South Africa at Loftus Versfeld.
Cooper might have played his last game for the Wallabies under Robbie Deans after continuing his criticism of the coach and team environment while sidelined with injury back home.
Beale's inclusion at No 10 was the only change made by Deans on Thursday to the starting team that came from 13 points down to beat Argentina 23-19 two weeks ago.
Normally a fullback, Beale kicked a match-winning penalty after the final hooter in 2010 to give Australia their first victory at a highveld venue in South Africa in 47 years. He also landed a crucial late goal against the Pumas on the Gold Coast after coming off the bench and has won back Deans's confidence after a poor start to the tournament.
"Although his season hasn't been without challenge, Kurtley stepped up with his involvements on the Gold Coast, making a difference when he was on the field," Deans said. "He's brought that enthusiasm forward with him since we've been in South Africa, has worked hard on the training track and is excited about the opportunity ahead."
Stand-in captain Nathan Sharpe will play his 110th Test at Loftus Versfeld, equaling George Smith's record for a Wallaby forward. Prop Benn Robinson will make his 50th appearance.
But with Cooper's outspoken criticism of Australia's tactics under Deans hanging over the squad, the attack-minded Beale was given the task of guiding Australia to their first victory over South Africa in Pretoria from the playmaker position.
Deans said the squad hadn't been unsettled by Cooper's words, which also led the Australian Rugby Union to contact the Reds player.
"I don't think it's been a distraction at all, really," Deans said of the Cooper situation. "It certainly hasn't been evident. We've had a good week of prep and we're just concentrating on playing and hopefully doing well in a Test match. That's the priority."
New Zealander Deans added he hadn't seen Cooper's latest comments, where he stood by his initial description of the environment under the current coach as "toxic" and said he wouldn't play for his country until changes were made.
Australia have still won their last five games against the Springboks - including that historic Beale-inspired victory in Bloemfontein two years ago - but have lost all five of their games against the Boks at Loftus.
"The (jersey) number might be new but his role within the game won't be," Deans said of Beale's switch from 15. "He has good memories from some of his experiences over here."
Berrick Barnes will continue at fullback after being shifted from 10 to make way for Cooper and will have the goal-kicking responsibilities against South Africa, Deans said, giving Beale license to play his open running game.
Kane Douglas retained his place in the second row for his second Test after Sitaleki Timani didn't recover from a hamstring injury.
Deans warned Australia's tourists that they could run into a desperate South Africa at one of their favourite grounds after the Boks gave up leads against both Australia and New Zealand on a losing tour of Australasia.
"They are proud men, and they don't lose at Loftus very often," Deans said of Heyneke Meyer's Springboks. "While they are coming off a tour which would have disappointed them, they were in both contests and will feel that they could have won on both occasions. That will only spur them on."
The clash at Loftus kicks off at 17:00 on Saturday.
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Francois Steyn/Jaco Taute, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Jaco Taute/Juan de Jongh, 22 Patrick LambieAustralia:
15 Berrick Barnes, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson
Substitutes: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Scott Higginbotham, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Anthony Fainga'a