AUSTRALIA coach Robbie Deans has backed the new-look midfield combination of Berrick Barnes and Matt Giteau to thrive ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster clash against New Zealand in Melbourne.
With star playmaker Quade Cooper to serve a two-match ban for a dangerous tackle in last week’s win over South Africa, the in-form Giteau will shift to fly-half, with Barnes promoted to the starting line-up at inside-centre.
The Giteau-Barnes combination has featured in 15 of the 33 Tests played in the Deans era, but they have not started a Test together since the final Tri Nations clash against the All Blacks in Wellington last September.
But while Cooper’s absence is a major blow to the Wallabies’ hopes of ending their seven-match losing streak against the All Blacks, Deans is adamant his charges are still capable of a rare trans-Tasman triumph.
“It’s a combination that we were looking at at the end of last year prior to the end of year tour but Barnesy picked up an (ankle) injury and we didn’t really get the opportunity (to see it),” said Deans.
“Obviously Quade got an opportunity on the spring tour and he’s made the most of that but these two blokes have been reunited and we’re expecting them to thrive.”
Asked if Barnes and Giteau will swap positions throughout the match, Deans replied: “You’ll see them in both roles throughout the game. We will use them in both roles.”
Deans all but conceded Cooper has little chance of having his suspension quashed at tomorrow’s appeal hearing.
“We’ve prepared on the basis that Quade won’t be available to us so we won’t contemplate anything other than that until such time as it became a reality and we’d deal with it if it did,” he said.
A rejuvenated Giteau welcomed the chance to renew his combination with Barnes and played down the significance of his own positional switch.
“I’ve played there (fly-half) a fair bit over the last couple seasons so it’s not a huge adjustment for me,” he said.
“The way I’ve been playing at 12 will change a little bit, I’ll get my hands on the ball a lot more but it’s not a worry. I’m very excited just to be in the team but also to be playing with Berrick. Quade’s been playing some great rugby but it gives Berrick a good opportunity and I’ve played with Berrick the past two seasons so combinations aren’t a worry and I really enjoy playing with him.”
Giteau also played down the significance of the All Blacks’ recent dominance due to the fact that many of the new-look Wallabies were not involved in past disappointments.
“A lot of these younger guys haven’t experienced the losses that some of the older players have experienced,” he explained.
“I don’t see it as a big issue or big challenge.
“For us we’re just focusing on this game and wanting to win that so we obviously keep Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations alive.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand have made two changes, with Jimmy Cowan and Joe Rokocoko both promoted to the starting line-up.
Cowan will wear the number nine jersey ahead of an unlucky Piri Weepu, who was among the All Blacks’ best against South Africa in Wellington.
Rokocoko has been rushed straight back into the run-on side at the expense of Rene Ranger after overcoming a hamstring injury.
The in-form Weepu, who became a father for the first time on Sunday, will start on the bench while Ranger will play no part in the match despite scoring a try in his run-on debut against the Springboks.
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