Wallabies named for end of year tour

Getty Images     26 Oct 2012     Getty Images

Sharpe, who took over as skipper midway through the inaugural Investec Rugby Championship, leads a side which features just one uncapped player in the NSW Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.

Seven first-year Wallabies have been included in the touring group, which has been bolstered by the returns of flanker David Pocock and hooker Stephen Moore from injury.

Queensland Reds hooker James Hanson, who made his Test debut during last weekend’s 18-18 draw against New Zealand in Brisbane, has won the third hooking berth ahead of his injured team-mate Saia Fainga’a, who broke a bone in his hand at training in the lead-up to that match.

While Fainga’a was expected to recover in time to participate on the tour, Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says that Hanson’s recent game-time, which includes both his Test debut and significant game-time at club level for Queensland University helped to win him the nod.

The fact that Moore is returning after an injury break, having not played since the Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland on August 25, also played a part in this decision.

"We had to have absolute certainty around at least two of our hookers,” Deans says.

“With Stephen also coming off a period out of the game, we couldn’t afford to head away having potential concerns around two of our three hookers.”

Although neither Pocock (knee) or Moore (hamstring) have recent match fitness behind them, Deans says both have proved their readiness to tour.

“As well as being proven Test performers with valuable experience in the conditions that we will face on this tour, both also provide a significant leadership element which will add to what is still a relatively young group.”

Berrick Barnes returns to duty, after recovering from the lung injury he suffered against South Africa at Pretoria last month, while Sekope Kepu and Sitaleki Timani are also included after the injuries they sustained last weekend in Brisbane proved less significant than was initially feared.

Flanker Scott Higginbotham is a casualty from the Brisbane Test, after suspension rubbed him out for the opening two Tests of the tour against France and England.

With No 8 Wycliff Palu having only recently returned from injury, and Pocock also in that state, Deans says the Wallabies couldn’t afford to carry a loose forward who wouldn’t be available for the first two weeks of the trip.

Higginbotham will be on stand-by to join the tour, if any injuries crop up, once he is available to play again.

“We’ve taken the same approach as we have around the hookers,” Deans says.

“To have included Scott within the 30 would have created an additional challenge in terms of selection for the opening two matches which would have compromised the group. Scott was aware once he was suspended that this was a possibility.”

The squad features an 18-forward, 12-back split, with five props selected to cater for the new arrangements regarding front-row substitutes which requires two props to be included on an eight-man Test reserves bench.

Although last weekend’s draw with the world champion All Blacks consolidated Australia’s hold on the number two ranking on the International Rugby Board standings, the Wallabies will face three of the four sides ranked immediately below them on the trip.

As these matches will all be played before the final seedings are confirmed for December’s Rugby World Cup 2015 draw; they have the potential to have a major bearing on the landscape surrounding that tournament.

Australia (86.37 points) currently leads South Africa (84.69), England (83.09), France (83.03) and Wales (82.26) but matches between sides ranked in the immediate vicinity of each other can have a major bearing, as was evidenced by the two-point swing against Australia following South Africa’s 31-8 win over the Wallabies at Pretoria, which briefly jumped the Springboks over Australia on the standings.

Forwards - Benn Robinson, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Ben Alexander, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Stephen Moore, James Hanson, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Dave Dennis, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Radike Samo.

Backs - Nick Phipps, Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Ben Tapuai, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Nick Cummins, Drew Mitchell, Mike Harris.