Australia coach Eddie Jones has left out veteran playmaker Quade Cooper and long-time captain Michael Hooper while selecting lock Will Skelton to lead his 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup.
There’s a heavy emphasis on youth in the squad announced Thursday. Cooper gave way to emerging star Carter Gordon and utility back Ben Donaldson. While veteran backrower Hooper was widely expected to be left out after losing his race against time with a calf injury, the axing of Cooper and the selection of Skelton as captain were surprises.
Jones picked 25 players who haven’t been to a World Cup, with all nine locks and backrowers yet to feature at the sport’s premier event. The 2023 edition kicks off next month in France.
The 35-year-old Cooper was Jones’ first-choice No. 10 a month ago but has steadily dropped down the list. Cooper’s absence let Jones pick a third scrumhalf, taking uncapped Western Force No. 9 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa to back up Tate McDermott and Nic White.
Jones picked 125-test veteran Hooper and prop James Slipper as co-captains ahead of the Rugby Championship but he’s opted to shuffle his leadership plans, naming Skelton as skipper with McDermott as his deputy.
The France-based Skelton will be the fifth player to lead the Wallabies in little more than a year, after Hooper, Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa and McDermott preceded him.
The Wallabies, who have gathered in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory for a four-day camp, have lost all four tests since Jones took over in his second stint with the team.
They were outclassed by defending World Cup champions South Africa in the opening match of the Rugby Championship, then lost closely to Argentina.
In the first match of the Bledisloe Cup, which was also their final Rugby Championship match, the All Blacks kept the trophy for the 21st consecutive year with a dominating win. Last week, in an improved performance by the Wallabies, New Zealand had to rally to edge Australia at Dunedin, New Zealand.
Despite all the losses, Jones was optimistic as ever after naming his squad.
“I’ve backed the young blokes because they earned it. Simple as that. I haven’t handed it to them,” Jones said. “They grabbed it. It’s exciting for me to go to work each day with these guys who are just busting to improve, to learn and to get better. They want to succeed, and they will succeed and that excitement is rubbing off on everyone. We’re in a good place.”
The Wallabies, who are now No. 8 in world rankings, will play France in a World Cup warm-up match on Aug. 27 at Stade de France before their Pool C tournament opener against Georgia on Sept. 9 at the same venue.
Australia’s remaining pool matches are against Fiji, Wales, and Portugal.
Forwards: Angus Bell, Pone Fa’amausili, Zane Nonggorr, Blake Schoupp, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Matt Faessler, David Porecki, Jordan Uelese, Richie Arnold, Nick Frost, Matt Philip, Will Skelton (captain), Langi Gleeson, Tom Hooper, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Rob Valetini.
Backs: Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Tate McDermott, Nic White, Carter Gordon, Lalakai Foketi, Samu Kerevi, Izaia Perese, Jordan Petaia, Max Jorgensen, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Suliasi Vunivalu, Ben Donaldson, Josh Kemeny.