"The team is starting to to really gel and understand each other" ... Adam Ashley-Cooper. Photo: Reuters
PARIS: Even the injury cloud has a silver lining. On the eve of the most important of Australia's four northern hemisphere Tests, Adam Ashley-Cooper says the Wallabies back line has turned continual upheaval into an attacking ''weapon''.
''It was disruptive initially but now we have had a lot of changes throughout the back line, the team is starting to really gel and understand each other and each player in different positions,'' said Ashley-Cooper, who was named on the wing in an unchanged back line to take on France on Saturday.
''You look at our back line now, apart from halfback, there's really no specialists out there … We see that as being a weapon for us, being able to slide into a different position, no matter what phase it is during the 80 minutes, and perform.''
Ashley-Cooper will partner Nick Cummins on the wing in his fourth match out wide this season. Mike Harris has been named at fullback, Nick Phipps and Kurtley Beale reprise their halves partnership and Pat McCabe and Ben Tapuai combine in the midfield once again. Berrick Barnes, who recovered from a punctured lung to travel with the squad, has taken Drew Mitchell's place on the bench.
It is the closest the Wallabies backs have come to a consistent line-up this year. ''Initially [the change] is disruptive, you can't build combinations, particularly in the back line - the back three or the midfield,'' Ashley-Cooper said. ''But now … We have found a real cohesion, especially in the back line, which I think has laid a really good foundation for us moving forward, particularly towards the back end of the [Rugby Championship] and hopefully this tour.''
The forwards have shuffled a little, to accommodate the loss of hard-hitting second-rower Sitaleki Timani, who is being rested because of a lower-back complaint. Kane Douglas will start alongside captain Nathan Sharpe, with Rob Simmons on the bench. Dave Dennis will start in the No.6 jersey, Wycliff Palu will pack down at No.8 and Michael Hooper will start at openside. Radike Samo will provide much-needed physicality from the bench.
Versatile prop Sekope Kepu has been added at tighthead to a beefed-up front row, with James Slipper and Paddy Ryan on the bench. Tatafu Polota-Nau was named in the hooking role, leaving Stephen Moore on the bench for a game that will make him Australia's most capped hooker.
Ashley-Cooper, one of the few players remaining from the Wallabies side that last beat the French two years ago, said preparation was the key to victory then and would be again this weekend. ''Preparation against these guys is everything,'' he said. ''Looking back to the wins in 2008 and 2010, we prepared really well, so if we get the job done during the week I think the result will take care of itself on the weekend.''
The Wallabies coaching staff have been careful to remind the squad how different that 2010 victory felt to the blown-out scoreboard, which finished at 59-16. The players have been preparing for another ''arm wrestle'' during a bruising encounter.
''It was our last game of the tour,'' Ashley-Cooper said. ''We went in a little intimidated, not knowing what the outcome could have been, but it felt like it just clicked. The French were in it until the 60-65-minute mark and [with] some late tries at the end, we ran away with it.''