Wallabies name squad for The Investec Rugby Championship

Getty Images     08 Aug 2012     Getty Images

Mitchell and Samo both missed the June Tests, where Australia was upset by Scotland before clean sweeping the Six Nations champions 3-0 in the Castrol EDGE Wales Tour, but worked their way back into the Test arena.

The pair finished the Investec Super Rugby season well, before impressing in training at the recent National Training camps which wrapped up last week.

Mitchell returns following ankle and hamstring injuries which temporarily stalled his career, and has gradually built up his strength and fitness base since returning to playing duties on the Waratahs tour of South Africa in May.

Only five players have scored more tries in Tests for the Wallabies than the 28-year-old, who appeared in his 58th and most recent Test for Australia during the Rugby World Cup pool match against Russia in New Zealand last year.

Samo re-enters after a shoulder injury blighted his Super Rugby season.

The widely travelled loose forward made a remarkable return to Test rugby in 2011 after a seven-year-absence, and ended the year with a Tri Nations title to sit alongside the three Super Rugby titles and a French Top 14 crown that he has won during his colourful career.

One of his 10 Test appearances for the year took him back to his younger days, when employed as a wing, after injuries had stretched Australia’s backline resources during the Rugby World Cup.

Samo featured in every match of that tournament, and made his most recent appearance for the Qantas Wallabies during last year’s season-ending 24-18 win over Wales in Cardiff on the Spring Tour.

The three new uncapped players named today include two of the most recent Australian Under-20 captains: Liam Gill, who skippered the side at the World Cup in South Africa this year, and his predecessor from the class of 2010: Jake Schatz.

They, along with the hard working NSW Waratahs lock Kane Douglas, earn calls ups after featuring at each of the two recent training camps.

Gill, who has made strong strides in his two full seasons with the Queensland Reds in Fx Pro Super Rugby, is included in the senior Wallaby squad for the first time after being selected for his third successive IRB Under-20 World Cup earlier in the year.

The promising flanker who, like Qantas Wallabies skipper David Pocock, earned his first fulltime Super Rugby contract at the age of 17; has already represented Australia with distinction on the HSBC World Sevens Series circuit.

Schatz, who led the Under-20s to the final at Rosario in Argentina in 2010, has also made solid progress in the time since with the Reds, cementing his position as a regular member of the starting line-up this term when he featured in all but one of the matches played by the Australian conference winners.

The inclusion of Gill, plus that of June newcomer Michael Hooper of the Brumbies, bolsters the Wallabies’ back-up resources behind the country’s premier openside flanker and captain, Pocock.

Douglas, who has been involved in Wallaby training groups previously, and appeared for the Australian Barbarians against England in 2010, has developed into one of Australia’s best set-piece exponents in recent times.

The selection of the 122kg second rower, plus that the 120kg Sitaleki Timani, adds size and power to the Australian set-piece.

The two young locks, along with third-season Wallaby second rower Rob Simmons, will be mentored by Test centurion Nathan Sharpe.

The 34-year-old’s decision to stay on for the Rugby Championship provides an opportunity to chase down George Smith as the second most capped Wallaby.

June’s third match against Wales was the 105th time that Sharpe has worn the Australian jersey in Test matches, five astern of the 110-appearances made by Smith.

Sharpe is available to Australia for a further seven Tests through until the end of the three-Test Bledisloe Cup series.

The squad features an 18-forward, 12-back split, with there being a wide degree of versatility among the backline options chosen.

All of the selected backs were involved, either playing or training, during the June Test window.

The Investec Rugby Championship, which introduces Argentina to the annual Southern Hemisphere competition for the first time, will run over six weekends between August 18 and October 6.

Eight of the players included today will be on debut in the annual Southern Hemisphere competition, having not appeared previously in the Rugby Championship’s forerunner, the Tri Nations. Four of them are uncapped.

Australia won the final Tri Nations last year, a decade after the Wallabies had won the second of their three tournament titles in 2001.

A number of injured players were unavailable for today’s selection but will come back into contention during the tournament once they complete their rehabilitation.

The Qantas Wallabies Squad for the 2012 Castrol Edge Rugby Championship
Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Anthony Fainga'a, Saia Fainga'a, Will Genia, Liam Gill, Mike Harris, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, Digby Ioane, Sekope Kepu, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Moore, Nick Phipps, David Pocock [c], Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Radike Samo, Jake Schatz, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Sitaleki Timani, Nic White.