Superstar returns for spicy Cheika showdown

Quade Cooper will return from a calf injury to pilot a new-look Wallabies side in their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina on Sunday (5.10am AEST).

The veteran five-eighth tweaked a muscle in warm-ups for the opening Test against England in July and was subsequently sidelined for the entire series.

But after proving his fitness in training, Cooper will now take aim at a Pumas side coached by former Wallabies boss Michael Cheika in Mendoza.

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Cooper fell out of favour with the Wallabies during Cheika’s reign and fired off a spicy tweet following the coach’s resignation in 2019.

“If he actually cared about Aus rugby he would have done it a while ago,” Cooper wrote.

Cooper’s return forces Noah Lolesio not only out of the starting XV but the match-day squad entirely as coach Dave Rennie gambles with just two backs on his bench.

The versatile Reece Hodge – who started at fullback in Australia’s last Test at the SCG – will cover multiple positions including five-eighth.

Tom Wright is a surprise selection in the No.15 jersey in place of Hodge.

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It was expected that Wright would retain his right wing berth with Jordan Petaia returning from concussion to start at fullback.

But instead Petaia will wear No.14 as Wright gets his wish at the back following some promising cameos there filling in against England.

“If that opportunity (at fullback) arises again, I’ll definitely take it with both hands,” Wright said before the team was announced.

“I was given an opportunity there through someone else’s misfortune.

“It will be good to have Jordie back in the mix of selection, and we’re only going to be better off for it as a team, but fullback is something that excites me – you get a few different looks at getting the ball in different parts of the field.”

As expected, Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau will pair up in midfield in the absence of Samu Kerevi while Jed Holloway will make his Test debut at blindside flanker.

Holloway forces Harry Wilson out of the side while Darcy Swain returns from a headbutt suspension to start in place of Nick Frost.

Dave Porecki’s concussion allows Folau Fainga’a to start at hooker while Allan Alaalatoa is preferred to Taniela Tupou as the run-on tighthead prop.

Former sparky Matt Gibbon is in line for a feel-good debut off the bench.

Lock Rory Arnold was left out as he continues to work back into match fitness.

“We’ve had a strong week of preparation over here in Argentina and we are highly motivated to put on a performance that makes our supporters proud back home in Australia,” Rennie said.

“It’s an extremely special occasion for Jed, Matt and their families and it’s up to the rest of us to make sure it’s a positive memory on their Test debuts.

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“Argentina will be full of confidence after their home series win over Scotland and we know we’ll need to be at our best to get a good result on Saturday afternoon (local time).”

WALLABIES (15-1): Tom Wright, Jordan Petaia, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Jed Holloway, Matt Philip, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper

Reserves: Lachlan Lonergan, Matt Gibbon, Taniela Tupou, Nick Frost, Rob Leota, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge

PUMAS (15-1): Juan Cruz Mallia, Santiago Cordero, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Santiago Carreras, Tomas Cubelli, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya (c), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Thomas Gallo, Joel Sclavi, Santiago Grondona, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Tomas Albornoz, Matias Moroni

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