DUBLIN (AP) — Quade Cooper could have been facing Jonny Sexton for the fourth time this year as Australia rolls up against Ireland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Instead, it will be the only encounter of the year between the influential rugby flyhalves, as Cooper was out of form and favour in mid-year, when Sexton's British and Irish Lions toured Australia and won a classic series 2-1.
Cooper's rehabilitation began after the Lions series with the rise to Wallabies coach of his old Queensland mentor, Ewen McKenzie, who has been repaid by the No. 10 with less flaky decision-making and comments, and more meaningful, improving contributions.
Now Cooper has a chance to see what he missed out on in the summer in lining up against Sexton. "All around the ruck he's always fighting for little inches to get ahead," Cooper said of Sexton. "That's what I love to see in opposition players. Me looking at him, being able to go up against him, it will be interesting and one I look forward to. You want to play against the best players and he's definitely one of them."
Cooper beat Sexton in Brisbane in 2010, but lost to him in the 2011 World Cup pool stage at Eden Park, the last time the teams met. Eleven Irish who started that game are back on Saturday. Captain and workhorse lock Paul O'Connell and centre Brian O'Driscoll will run out together for Ireland for the first time since that win in Auckland. They also started the Lions first test, but O'Connell finished it with a broken arm and came home.
O'Connell prepared for his first Irish start in 20 months with a run off the bench in the 40-9 win over an injury-riddled Samoa last weekend, and he's been joined by 2.11-meter (6-foot-11) Devin Toner, who's charged with disrupting the Wallabies' lineout.
Controlling the source of possession is at the heart of Ireland's plan to starve the classy Wallabies backline. "Anyone would acknowledge they were pretty unlucky against England," coach Joe Schmidt said. "Then they didn't really let Italy into the game a week later. To put 50 points on a team is pretty impressive, and it's the same thing they did to Argentina in Argentina.
"They are the first team in a long time to do that to Argentina in their own country. So if you do let them loose they will do some damage. We've got to try to limit their opportunity to get ball in unstructured situations with a bit of time and space."
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Marshall, Fergus McFadden, Johnny Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell (captain), Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Stephen Archer, Mike McCarthy, Kevin McLaughlin, Conor Murray, Ian Madigan, Robbie Henshaw.
Australia: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben Mowen (captain), Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Sitaleki Timani, Liam Gill, Nic White, Christian Leali'ifano, Joseph Tomane.