Monday 19 February 2018

McKenzie heaps praise on Cooper as pair suspended for Dublin drinking return

Quade Cooper
Quade Cooper

Andrew Baldock

Australia coach Ewen McKenzie has paid a glowing tribute to Quade Cooper as the Wallabies fly-half prepares to win his 50th cap.

Cooper will be charged with pulling the strings for Australia against Wales on Saturday and driving their bid for a ninth successive victory over the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions.

"To get to 50 games is an outstanding achievement and it's fitting that he reaches the milestone at the end of a really good individual season," McKenzie said.

"He has really enjoyed the responsibility of playing at 10 for Australia.

"He is a very proud guy and proud of his involvement. This team is very important to him, and I am personally quite pleased for him.

"He is continually improving, both on and off the field, and he definitely isn't the finished article, which is promising.

"But he won't be too caught up in the milestone externally. His focus will be on how he fits into the team and his responsibility of managing this game."

Centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and wing Nick Cummins will return to the Australia team on Saturday.

Both players were among a group suspended by McKenzie for last weekend's appointment with Scotland following a late-night drinking session the previous week in Dublin.

Ashley-Cooper moves from the wing position he filled against Ireland, and Cummins replaces Chris Feauai-Sautia, with Christian Leali'ifano switching from outside to inside centre.

Wing Joe Tomane, who started against Scotland, retains his place in the number 14 shirt, and the Wallabies pack is unchanged for a third successive game.

"We are treating this week a little bit like our Grand Final, so it's pleasing to bring in some big-game players with a lot of experience," McKenzie added.

"I think everyone will be extremely motivated by the circumstances of the game and the opportunity to play Wales in their backyard.

"For us to finish (the year) on a high would be good reward for a lot of the hard work being done.

"We are trying to be a consistent side which can come up with answers no matter what the circumstance or environment.

"There has been a lot of change and different things happening, so for the guys to push through that has been terrific.

"We are enjoying playing in big venues in front of hostile crowds, but being consistent in that space is where we want to be.

"Our journey at the moment is around that, and four wins in a row to end the season would be fantastic."

Australia team to face Wales: (15-9) I Folau, J Tomane, A Ashley-Cooper, C Leali'ifano, N Cummins, Q Cooper, W Genia; ((1-8) J Slipper, S Moore , S Kepu, R Simmons, J Horwill, S Fardy, M Hooper, B Mowen(c).

Replacements: (16-23) T Polota-Nau, B Robinson , B Alexander, K Douglas, D Dennis, N White, M Harris, B Foley.

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