New Australia coach Ewen McKenzie has recalled controversial fly-half Quade Cooper to the national squad as part of a 40-man training squad ahead of the Rugby Championship which gets underway next month.
Cooper has not been selected since September 2012 after he labelled the Wallabies environment as “toxic” under the reign of recently dismissed coach Robbie Deans.
Following the series loss to the British and Irish Lions earlier this month, Deans lost his job as the head coach of Australia, with former international prop McKenzie taking his role after impressing with the Queensland Reds – coincidentally Cooper’s Super XV club.
He also listed current fly-half James O’Connor as a wing/full-back, meaning that Deans’ attempt to deploy the former Melbourne Rebels star will not be continued by his successor.
McKenzie admitted that he had spoken to O’Connor before the announcement, and that he was fine with the decision to revert to his former position.
"That's where I see him primarily, I think he can play a bunch of positions, but that's what we'll focus [on]," McKenzie said.
McKenzie has chosen to call-up two uncapped half-backs in the form of the Brumbies’ Matt Toomua and the Waratahs’ Bernard Foley, with both having played against the Lions for their respective clubs during the tour.
"There's a bunch of guys coming into the squad who are all playmakers and the way we want to look at playing the game, we want to be able to move the ball around the park," McKenzie stressed.
"You need a good passing game, you need good vision. They are all attributes of the guys we've included in the squad so there's a bunch of guys who can deliver in that space, so that's what we are going to invest in."
The other new names in the backs are Brumbies half-back Nic White, centres Tevita Kuridrani and Chris Feauai-Sautia of the Brumbies and Reds respectively and Waratahs winger Peter Betham.
In the forwards, locks Hugh Pyle and Scott Fardy of the Rebels and Brumbies respectively are included, while Brumbies prop Scott Sio and Reds' back rower Jake Schatz are also brought into the squad.
Backs Berrick Barnes and Drew Mitchell and lock Sitaleki Timani are all left out as they have signed to join clubs overseas, while David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, Pat McCabe and Digby Ioane are expected to miss the majority of the Championship.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver has insisted that McKenzie will not have any extra pressure on him despite his opening two games against fierce rivals New Zealand, and he also admitted that he is confident wing Israel Folau will recommit to the side and that there is interest in another rugby league convert Benji Marshall, who has announced he will be changing codes this year.
Australia - Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Nick Cummins, Anthony Faingaa, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Mike Harris, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Jesse Mogg, Nick Phipps, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, James O'Connor, Nic White.
Forwards: Ben Alexander, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Faingaa, Scott Fardy, Liam Gill, Michael Hooper, James Horwill (captain), Sekope Kepu, Peter Kimlin, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Hugh Pyle, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper.