WALLABIES coach Michael Cheika has thrown down the gauntlet to controversial playmaker Quade Cooper, naming him at fly-half for tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park.
As if the All Blacks didn't have enough motivation after last week's 27-19 loss to Australia in Sydney, the players and New Zealand fans will now be amped to give it to Cooper, as they did in spades the last time he played at what has become Australia's graveyard, winless at the venue since 1986.
When the 27-year-old - born just down the road from Auckland at Tokoroa - played at Eden Park under then-Wallabies coach Robbie Deans in 2012, he was subjected to a torrent of boos, jeers and abuse from the crowd, hardly firing a shot in the 22-0 loss to the All Blacks.
The previous year, he had entered the World Cup as New Zealand's 'Public Enemy No.1' after targeting New Zealand captain Richie McCaw in several off-the-ball incidents in Bledisloe Cup matches, and was never allowed to forget it.
Unfortunately he didn't respond on the big stage, arguably his worst effort coming in the 20-6 semi-final loss to the All Blacks when he started the game by kicking out on the full.
Another failure this time could be fatal for his World Cup chances later this year.
Cooper's inclusion, at the expense of Bernard Foley, was one of six changes made by coach Michael Cheika after last weekend's Rugby Championship triumph.
Matt Toomua comes off the bench to replace Matt Giteau at inside centre, while lock Will Skelton switches with Dean Mumm to start the match.
As expected, Brumbies halfback Nic White gets his chance in place of Nick Phipps, while teammate Henry Speight is back from suspension and will start on the wing.
Wycliff Palu will start at No.8 with 50-gamer David Pocock moving to the bench after three torrid games, and Kane Douglas will play his first match for the Wallabies since 2013 from the bench after returning from Ireland.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took the mind games to another level by suggesting the Wallabies deserved to be favourites on the back of their unbeaten Rugby Championship campaign.
"I think Australia now have put themselves in a place where people have got high expectations of them," Hansen said.
"And with that comes pressure, too. It's one of those great Test matches - we're going to find out who's got the steel and who hasn't."
Wallabies: Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (c), Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton, James Horwill, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper (v-c), Wycliff Palu, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Henry Speight, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani, Adam Ashley-Cooper (v-c), Israel Folau. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, Kane Douglas, David Pocock, Matt Giteau, Kurtley Beale.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU with APNZ
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