AUCKLAND, – Australia coach Robbie Deans has retained the starting line-up that recently claimed the Tri Nations title for the Wallabies opening Rugby World Cup 2011 match against Italy at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday.
The show of faith by the coaching staff means utility back James O’Connor has to be content with a place on the bench on his return from a one-match disciplinary suspension.
In the only other changes from the squad that defeated New Zealand in Brisbane on 27 August, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and prop James Slipper return from injury to join O’Connor in the reserves. Deans said he has immense respect for the Italian side and has named his strongest line-up.
“It’s a sign of respect. Not only for the Italians but also for ourselves,” he said.
“This World Cup doesn’t come around often so it’s got a lot of meaning for these blokes to pull the jersey on and represent their country at a World Cup.”
With first choice kicker O’Connor warming the bench, fly half Quade Cooper will again be handed the goal-kicking duties after he took on the responsibility in the Tri Nations decider and slotted four goals from six attempts. Deans said that despite Cooper’s lack of experience as an international goal kicker, he has full confidence in the Queenslander withstanding the pressure of the World Cup stage.
“He did it last week (in the Tri Nations), he did it through the Super Rugby season. Things around the game change but the essential skill of kicking the goal doesn’t,” he said.
Deans played down the benching of O’Connor and explained that while the 21-year-old remained the team’s first-choice kicker, it was simply part of playing rugby to spend time in the reserves.