Back row forward Ben Mowen will captain Australia for a second time in Saturday’s Cook Cup clash against England at Twickenham.
Lock James Horwill has been asked by coach Ewen McKenzie to focus solely on his own individual playing performance in the team’s opening game of the year-end tour and therefore won’t have added responsibility of the captaincy.
McKenzie wants Horwill to rediscover the aggression and power that has been a hallmark of his career, which will be integral to Saturday’s contest against a physically-renowned England side at Twickenham.
The decision gives Mowen another opportunity to lead Australia after he became the 80th Wallabies captain in guiding the team to a 14-13 win over Argentina during the Rugby Championship.
Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper steps up to become the vice-captain.
Thirteen months after his Test career was hanging by a thread, following the infamous “toxic” attack on the team environment, a forgiven Cooper has leapfrogged Horwill and Will Genia to be Ben Mowen’s shock deputy.
“There’s no doubting James is a world-class leader but it’s important he is putting his own personal performance first and playing to the level we know he is capable of on a weekly basis,” McKenzie said.
“By his own lofty standards, James would admit he hasn’t been at peak form. So, we’ve made the decision to this week remove the added pressures and responsibilities of being a captain so that he can focus entirely on bringing his ‘A’ game.
“Decisions like these are never easy, but sometimes you need to make hard choices for the long-term benefit of the individual. A strong individual performance will be the best contribution he can make to this game.
“Without the captaincy, Ben now gets another opportunity to lead his country, while we’re recognising Quade for the ongoing decision-making role he plays on the field and the positive involvements he continues to make in contributing to the culture of the team off the field.
“However, like we do every week, we’ll re-assess all selection decisions for next week’s game against Italy after we focus on taking care of business against England on Saturday.”
McKenzie has made four changes to his starting line-up with Sitaleki Timani to partner Horwill in the second row, a reshuffled back row with Mowen moving to No.8 following the return of Scott Fardy at blindside flank, and Nick Cummins on the wing.
Timani replaces fellow lock Rob Simmons in the starting XV with the Queensland Reds forward a late withdrawal from the match after re-injuring the medial ligament in his left knee during Tuesday’s training session.
Following further evaluation on Wednesday, medical staff ruled Simmons out of Saturday’s contest, although he will remain with the touring squad and is expected to be available for selection at a later date during the year-end tour.
Fardy comes back into the starting line-up after missing Australia’s third Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand with an eye injury, while Cummins has recovered from a fractured hand he sustained in the Wallabies earlier victory over Argentina in Perth.
Following a standout performance against the All Blacks, ACT Brumbies playmaker Matt Toomua has retained his place at inside centre, forcing good friend and provincial teammate Christian Leali’ifano to return from an ankle injury via the bench.
McKenzie said the loss of Simmons was significant but was also looking forward to seeing a number of players return from injury.
“We’re in a better position this week that we’ve been able to make more selection decisions based on performance as opposed to those forced by injury,” he said.
“The perfect example of that is Matt’s inclusion in the centres ahead of another of our best performing players before his injury in Christian.
“I often say that players drive their own selection and Matt’s performance against the All Blacks demanded he wear the No.12 jersey again.
“In saying that, it’s really disappointing to be without Simmo, who probably doesn’t get enough recognition for the role he plays in this team, including as a line-out organiser and our top-tackling forward.
“He plays a different game to James and Sitaleki so you’ll see various subtle changes to the way the team functions without him. But, with James and Sita together we have a potentially powerful combination and it will be interesting to see how they impose themselves on the England forward pack.”
Australia will be aiming to continue its strong recent form against England, with the Wallabies successful in eight of their past 12 matches, including three of their past four at Twickenham.
Their latest victory over England came in Australia’s second game of their 2012 year-end tour, a maiden Test try to winger Nick Cummins late in the game securing a 20-14 win.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Christian Leali’ifano, 23 Bernard Foley.
Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 01.30, Sunday November 3 AEDT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)