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Wallabies’ Cooper not focused on Cheika | Latest Rugby News

Coach Dave Rennie doesn’t believe Quade Cooper’s fractious history with Argentina coach Michael Cheika will affect his Wallabies playmaker against the Pumas in the opening Rugby Championship Test.

Cooper has every reason to try to make a point in the Mendoza match on Sunday morning (AEST) after the former Australian coach effectively tried to end his Test career five years ago.

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There’s still no love lost but Rennie, who took over as Wallabies coach after the 2019 Rugby World Cup, said the history between the pair hadn’t been raised.

“We haven’t spoken about the Cheika thing at all… his focus is on playing well for us and we expect him to do that,” Rennie said on Friday after naming his side.

Cooper steered Australia to five wins from his five Tests last year but missed the losing England series through injury with youngster Noah Lolesio at 10.

Rennie felt the experience of 34-year-old Cooper would be key as the Wallabies look to improve their game management.

“Quade’s trained really well. His experience, the quality of his skill set is really evident when we train as well,” Rennie said.

“The impressive thing about Quade last year was we had a plan going into the game and he implemented it really well and we’ve got a clear plan this time as well.”

While Cooper gets his first chance of the year, Tom Wright will start his first Test match at fullback, preferred ahead of Jordan Petaia, who has been named on the wing.

Rennie said Wright’s form in the Brisbane Test, when he shifted early to fullback to cover for the injured Petaia, couldn’t be ignored.

“Tom was outstanding at fullback a couple of weeks ago,” Rennie said.

“He’s an excellent communicator, really good organizer of people around them and he’s just been in really good shape.”

Jed Holloway will make his debut after being named at blindside flanker, while his childhood friend, uncapped prop Matt Gibbon, has been included on the bench.

Rennie is a big fan of the tackle-busting Holloway, who is equally at home in the second row.

The 29-year-old made a rugby resurgence this season following his return to the Waratahs after being dumped by ex-NSW coach Rob Penney in 2020.

“We’re really excited for him. He’s such a good man and he’s had a massive season for the Waratahs and deserves his chance,” Rennie said.

“He’s got a really good skill set, he’s an excellent lineout forward and he’s got a bit of an edge about him and we think that’s going to be important going into the weekend.”

In other changes, Folau Fainga’a will run on at hooker with Dave Porecki ruled out after a head knock.

Lock Darcy Swain, who was suspended for a head-butt in the first England Test, has been recalled to partner Matt Philip ahead of Giteau’s Law pick Rory Arnold.

Rennie confirmed Arnold, who has had a calf strain, would be fit for the second Test in San Juan.

Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau will summarize their center partnership from the UK spring tour in the absence of Samu Kerevi.

The Australians are well aware they need to match the physicality of a Pumas pack, who will be fired up by Cheika, who oversaw the Wallabies for five years.

Argentina are also riding high after upsetting Scotland in their recent three-Test series.

Rennie has opted for a 6-2 bench split, with Jake Gordon and Reece Hodge the only backs, in a bid to counter their rivals up front.

“You can always say it’s a bit of a risk if you lose a back early on and you’re under a little bit of stress but we feel the battle up front is going to be really important,” he explained.

“They’re a good side, they will be really combative.”

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