Aussie captain Michael Hooper cleared for opening All Blacks Test
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika releases the names of his trimmed-down 28-man squad
Melbourne — Australian captain Michael Hooper has been cleared for Saturday’s opening rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup Test against the All Blacks after recovering from a hamstring injury.
The flanker was named in a 28-man squad released by Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on Sunday, with prop Scott Sio and winger Dane Haylett-Petty also given the green light for the Sydney match after respective shoulder and knee injuries.
The squad, trimmed down from 36, includes only two uncapped players in outside backs Tom Banks and Jack Maddocks. Folau Faingaa, Jermaine Ainsley, Rory Arnold, Caleb Timu, Billy Meakes, Curtis Rona, Jordan Petaia and Sefa Naivalu were cut from the preliminary training squad.
With Rona omitted, utility back Reece Hodge is likely to start in the outside centre position vacated by injured duo Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani. Israel Folau, who has played outside centre for Super Rugby side Waratahs, is another candidate for the starting 13 jersey but Cheika has said he would prefer the explosive dual international to stay in his usual fullback position.
Injuries aside, Cheika suggested he had all but settled on a squad for the tournament and beyond, with the World Cup in Japan little more than a year away. "We’ll have some extra players in there on Monday and Tuesday, so we can get our training done and then I just think that I want to have a bit more focus on the group that’s going to play the [All Blacks] game," he said.
"I want the guys that are not playing in that given week to go and play some footy, whether it be club or NRC [National Rugby Championship], depending on the time of year.
"I just think that a little bit of extra focus on a smaller group of players in there can build our alignment and cohesion.
"Everyone’s focused on the one task, everyone knows what their role is."
The Wallabies beat the All Blacks in their last encounter in October but have not held the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested between the teams, since 2002. Saturday’s match doubles as the opener for the Rugby Championship, which also features SA and Argentina.
Australia last won the tournament in 2015.
The All Blacks have trimmed down their squad for the match, leaving injured centre Sonny Bill Williams and outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder at home.
The All Blacks departed for Sydney on Sunday in preparation for Saturday’s match at Olympic Park, with hooker Dane Coles among the touring party despite a long lay-off from injury. Ngani Laumape was called in as cover for Williams in the extended squad named last week.
Steve Hansen’s side are bidding to extend their hold over the Bledisloe Cup, the annual series contested with Australia, for a 16th year and claim a third successive Rugby Championship trophy.
Wallaby squad: Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper (capt), Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Lukhan Tui, Taniela Tupou. Backs: Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Nick Phipps, Joe Powell, Matt Toomua
All Blacks squad: Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. Forwards: Luke Whitelock, Akira Ioane, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Vaea Fifita, Jackson Hemopo, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris