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By Qantas Wallabies Media Unit
Injuries have forced three changes to the Qantas Wallabies preliminary squad that will assemble in Sydney today to begin preparations for the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour.
Melbourne Rebels halfback Nick Phipps, NSW Waratahs lock Kane Douglas and Western Force loose forward Ben McCalman have all been added to the group, in place of the injured trio of Digby Ioane, Sitaleki Timani and Scott Higginbotham.
Timani and Higginbotham have dropped out of the preliminary squad after injuries they sustained during this weekend’s round of Super Rugby.
Their prospects of participation in the Test series will be determined after the pair have undergone scans for thumb and shoulder complaints respectively.
Timani left the field after sustaining a suspected broken thumb during the NSW Waratahs’ one-point loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday night, with the scans held over until after the team had returned to Sydney.
Douglas, who celebrated his 27th birthday last Tuesday, received his Test introduction last year against Argentina on the Gold Coast.
Higginbotham has dropped out of the squad after dislocating his shoulder during last night’s Super Rugby loss to the Queensland Reds, with the Melbourne Rebels skipper remaining in Brisbane for scans while the Wallabies assemble.
His absence has paved the way for McCalman to re-join the Wallabies after a 12-month absence, having missed all of last year’s Test season himself, due to injury.
The 25-year-old, who debuted against South Africa in the 2010 Tri Nations, played the most recent of his 21 Tests during the 24-18 over Wales at Cardiff which concluded the 2011 season.
McCalman recently surpassed a half century of Super Rugby appearances for the Western Force, and had been scheduled to appear in the Lions’ Australian-Tour opener in Perth on Wednesday, prior to today’s call up.
Ioane last week underwent an operation to attend to an articular cartilage complaint in his left knee.
The Queensland Reds winger returned home from the side’s recent two-match tour of South Africa after the opening match against the Cheetahs at Bloemfontein.
As he will be unable to train for some of the preparation time in the lead-up to the opening Test of the DHL Australia 2013 Lions tour at Brisbane on June 22, the decision was made to replace him among the listed 25, although he is still joining the squad in Sydney today to continue his rehabilitation.
The selection of Phipps, who represented Australia in nine Tests last year, boosts to two the number of halfbacks in the preliminary Wallabies squad, joining Queensland Reds hooker Will Genia.
“Digby is unable to train. His focus is on getting his knee right, which is why we’ve chosen to bring him in anyway, so we our medical staff can oversee the process,” Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says.
“His absence from training opened up the opportunity to add another player. Nick has been playing well, has background with us through his experience last year and is a player who was always in our thoughts.
Deans says that Nic White, who had also been playing well, could yet be added to the group among the final six players named.
White will play for the Brumbies during this weekend’s Super Rugby match against the Melbourne Rebels in Canberra.
Phipps described the call up as a “pleasant surprise” admitting he felt he had “left my run too late” after starring in the Rebels upset win over the Stormers of South Africa, two days before the preliminary Wallabies squad was named.
“I’d been going ok, but felt my performance in that game, after I got on, was a step up from where I’d been,” Phipps says.
“Possibly I’d been trying a bit too hard. I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Wallabies, especially last year when I got a few starts, and was pretty keen to get back there.”
“I guess, like every other player in the country, I’m desperate to have a crack at the Lions. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that a lot of players don’t get.”
Today’s announcement is bitter sweet for Phipps. As he comes in; his Melbourne housemate Higginbotham has ‘moved out’, after he was originally named in the preliminary squad two weeks ago, while Phipps wasn’t.
A former Australian Sevens representative, and foundation member at the Rebels where he became the first player from the club to make the Wallabies; Phipps made his debut against Munster on the 2010 Spring Tour, before being introduced at Test level a year later against Samoa.
His breakthrough came last year, when he compiled nine of his 12 Test appearances to date, taking over as Australia’s starting halfback after a knee injury ended Genia’s season during the successful Mandela Challenge Plate defence against South Africa at Perth.
With the then Australian Test captain sidelined; Phipps went on to start in all but one of the remaining eight Wallaby appointments for the year, playing key roles in the come-from-behind win over Argentina on the Gold Coast, and then in the win over England at Twickenham which returned the Cook Cup to Australian possession.
In both instances, the now 24-year-old was responsible for creating game-turning tries.
“Nick proved last year that he had the qualities to make a difference in the Test arena,” Deans says.
“He was called on at a time of great adversity and responded. His work rate makes a big difference to those around him, as does his enthusiasm both on and off the field.
“Pleasingly he has taken the benefits of his experience from last year back to the Rebels and added to them. He has been a point of difference player for the team this year and one of the leaders within their group.”
Deans acknowledged that Phipps’ Test background, and his familiarity with the European playing style that the British & Irish Lions will bring through last year’s Tour, had been considerations in his selection.
Phipps will be available alongside Deans, Douglas and Qantas Wallabies winger Nick Cummins at today’s squad assembly media opportunity in Sydney.
The revised list of 25 players who are going into camp with the Qantas Wallabies in Sydney today ahead of the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour is:
Player Position State Age Appearances