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By ARU Media Unit
Qantas Wallabies Spring Tourist Nick Phipps has today been named in coach Michael O’Connor’s Australian Sevens squad for the opening two legs of the HSBC Sevens World Series, which gets underway in Dubai next month.
Phipps, who was Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans’s tour bolter for the seven match trip through Hong Kong and Europe, made his debut off the bench in the mid-week Australian side’s 15-6 loss to Munster at Thomond Park.
The Melbourne Rebels recruit returns to the Sevens fold as one of four Commonwealth Games silver medallists who feature in the 12-man squad - alongside new captain Bernard Foley, vice-captain Ed Jenkins and Shaun Foley.
The Delhi quartet will provide the experienced backbone in the largely inexperienced squad which will compete in Dubai on 3-4 December before contesting the South African tournament in George the following weekend.
Coach O’Connor has welcomed the return of Phipps.
“Nick didn’t get a lot of game time in Europe but the whole experience for him was fantastic,” O’Connor said.
“He’s was really keen to come back and play, he’s had a season with us now and towards the end of the year he was just outstanding.
“He just offers so much energy and passion for the game. He’ll be great for the squad.”
The dual-International says he’s confident his new-look squad will be competitive on the World Series circuit after observing promising form at back-to-back tournaments in Queensland earlier this month.
“While we didn’t play Nick or Bernard, and Shaun didn’t get much game time; what the Gold Coast and Noosa Sevens tournaments gave me was an opportunity to play some of the new players rather than putting them in cold in Dubai,” O’Connor said.
“A lot of them are still leaning the game and are very raw but there are some encouraging signs for the team from an attitude point of view and their willingness to want to learn. I’m really looking forward to it actually, I’ve got a new crop of players so it’s quite exciting.”
Australia won the Plate final in Dubai in 2009 and are every chance to improve on that result after being drawn in a favourable pool which could help them stay in the top side of the draw.
In Pool C, Australia will take on South Africa, who they beat to reach the gold medal playoff at the Games, and also battle Scotland and Russia.
Australia finished a commendable third overall last season to achieve their best World Series result since 2000/01 and four members of the Games squad – skipper Pat McCutcheon, wingers Lachie Turner and Luke Morahan and Phipps– being rewarded with selection on the Qantas Wallabies Spring Tour.
O’Connor says he’s expecting the same kind of success this season.
“You don’t want to go backwards in life and that’s the challenge to this squad now, last year’s squad did exceptionally well - they ended up getting us a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and they finished third on the World circuit and that was a good result,” O’Connor said.
“We’re not going to rest on our laurels, we want to at least reach the same heights and definitely stay on the top line of that draw.
“We don’t want to fall back to where we were. That’s the expectation this year, not to go backwards, it’s to stay up there and go forward.”
New captain Bernard Foley said he’s honoured to be chosen as McCutcheon’s successor.
“It’s a really big honour, captaining your country is not something that you get to do every day, so I’m just looking forward to getting out there and performing well,” Foley said.
“(Vice-captain) Ed’s been around for a couple of years now and he’s a really experienced player and a really good leader so I think we’ll work well together in leading a young squad which has a lot of new players.
“In the past couple of years we’ve probably gone into Dubai a bit underdone, but this year having the back-to-back lead-up tournaments, will give us a bit of a head start.
“There’s no substitute for game time so I think our preparation and time on the field will prove to be very beneficial.”
After the first two tournaments, the HSBC Sevens World Series moves on to events in New Zealand, the US in February before stops in Hong Kong, Australia, England and Scotland.
A change to the 2011 calendar sees the Hong Kong event in March precede the Australian leg of the tournament which will be staged at Adelaide Oval on 2-3 April.
Tickets for the Adelaide event are on sale now through Ticketek www.ticketek.com.au
Australia: Bernard Foley (captain), Ed Jenkins (vice-captain), Hamish Angus, Trent Dyer, Shaun Foley, John Grant, Michael Hodge, Greg Jeloudev, Tevita Kuridrani, Jono Lance, Nick Phipps, Dan Yakopo.
Fans of Rugby Sevens will be able to feel closer to the Australian team than ever before when the new jerseys go on sale from today (Monday, 8 September).