Pat McCabe is preferred to Berrick Barnes at inside centre, while Dan Vickerman has been deployed to stop Victor Matfield’s influence in the quarter-final in Wellington.
McCabe seriously injured his shoulder two weeks ago but has made an unexpectedly quick recovery to start. He will test the defence in the Springboks’ 10-12 channel with his direct style. Barnes drops to the bench and joins centre Anthony Fainga’a, who returns from injury.
Other changes in the back division sees Digby Ioane return to wing after an injury sustained in their opening pool match. He replaces Drew Mitchell, who was forced to fly home after tearing his hamstring. The run-on backline is the same one that beat the Springboks 14-9 in the Tri-Nations match in Durban in August.
Meanwhile, the South African born Vickerman has edged out Nathan Sharpe in the second row. ‘There wasn’t a lot in that call,’ head coach Robbie Deans said. ‘They are both experienced and both understand the importance and composure in matches of this magnitude.’
Vickerman is one of five changes in the heavies, with Radike Samo, Ben Alexander, Rocky Elsom, Sekope Kepu reinstated.
Scott Higginbotham is omitted with Ben McCalman asked to cover all three loose forward positions.
Deans said their recent dominance over the Springboks (they’ve won five of their last six Tests) counted for nothing. ‘That stat is irrelevant now. History reflects sides who have done well leading into the tournament haven’t won it,’ he said. ‘It’s whether we an do it on Sunday. That’s all that matters.’
He added that their pool-phase defeat to Ireland would have offered the Springboks clues in how to nullifying them – ‘what Ireland did, the Springboks’ are also equipped to do’ – but stressed that his team has improved since then.
The Wallabies have been heavily penalised by referee Bryce Lawrence in the three pool matches he has handled (33-18 penalties in favour of their opposition) and Deans explained that discipline was a theme this week.
‘There has been a lot of dialogue about it and we’re very concious of it, particularly since the Springboks’ philosophy is to prey on the opposition’s errors.’
Australia - 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O’Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Nathan Sharpe, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Luke Burgess , 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Anthony Fainga’a.
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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