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By ARU Media Unit
The inclusion of three newcomers, and seven uncapped players overall, highlights the Qantas Wallabies squad of 40 that has been released today for this year’s Castrol Edge Rugby Test against Samoa, and for the 2011 Castrol Edge Tri Nations series.
The Queensland Reds pair of flanker Beau Robinson and hooker James Hanson have been invited to join the playing cast, as has the impressive NSW Waratahs second rower Sitaleki Timani.
The three first-time Wallabies are joined in the squad by Queensland Reds wingers Rod Davies and Luke Morahan, Melbourne Rebels halfback Nick Phipps and the NSW Waratahs loose forward Dave Dennis.
While Davies, Morahan, Phipps and Dennis have previously participated in Spring Tours, they remain uncapped at Test level to this point in their respective careers.
The enlarged squad has been named with one eye to the upcoming Rugby World Cup later in the year, where 30 players will represent Australia at the tournament.
For this reason, a number of players have been included in this initial naming who are not immediately available due to injuries sustained during Super Rugby.
Two other Test incumbents, winger Drew Mitchell and inside centre Berrick Barnes, have been omitted for now due to the uncertain timelines surrounding their rehabilitation from injury.
Even without the pair, as many as six of the players chosen today will not be available for the opening Test of the year against Samoa due to injury, although Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans expects all of the selected players to have returned to full training if not playing duties, at some level, prior to the completion of the Tri Nations at the end of August.
“In terms of the players who are currently on the sidelines, we won’t be rushing any of them,” Deans says, “but we need to get them all started, in terms of being exposed to all of the detail, as part of our preparation.”
“That’s one of the reasons why we have opted for an enlarged squad at this point.
“The expansion of Super Rugby and this year’s Rugby World Cup has condensed the schedule significantly which has placed an even greater importance on making sure that we have covered all selection-related eventualities, as there isn’t a lot of time between matches.
“To that end, we want the guys to be playing so, as we have done in previous years, we will be looking to have as many of the players playing as is possible by releasing them to their clubs where we can.”
The selection of Beau Robinson, Hanson, Morahan and Davies recognises their contributions to the Reds’ charge to the top rung of Super Rugby, which was completed by last night’s gritty 18-13 win over the Crusaders in the final.
Phipps and Dennis also performed strongly for their Super Rugby provinces, while Deans says the form shown by the damaging Timani, was simply too good to ignore.
The Tongan-born lock began the year as part of the back-up pool of players at the Waratahs, but ended it as one of his team’s form players.
While the 24-year-old was due to take up a playing option in Japan at the conclusion of Super Rugby, this has now been put on hold, with international selection taking precedence under International Rugby Board regulations.
Australia’s fifth Super Rugby representative, the Melbourne Rebels, has doubled its representation from the last Spring Tour, with Phipps being joined by fullback Mark Gerrard, who last appeared for the Wallabies at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
The 28-year-old, who is the veteran of 23 previous Tests for the Wallabies, only returned to Australia late last year after a stint playing in Japan.
Gerrard is one of three players whose selection today turns back the clock: NSW Waratahs second rower Dan Vickerman last played for Australia in the 2008 Tri Nations, and returned to the country last month after a period of tertiary study in England.
However the ‘Comeback of the Year’ unquestionably belongs to the 2004 Wallaby Radike Samo, who has revitalised his career after joining the Reds at the tail end of last year’s Super Rugby competition as an injury reinforcement.
The ex-Fiji Under-19 rep, who played six Tests for Australia in 2004 after sharing in the Brumbies Super Rugby title earlier that year, left the country in 2006 and only returned after stints playing in both France and Japan.
Samo was plucked from semi-retirement in Sydney club rugby last year to bolster the Reds for their final two matches, and was rewarded for his deeds then with a fulltime contract for this season.
Today’s selection, which comes a day after his 35th birthday, adds arguably the most remarkable chapter yet to a colourful career which has seen Samo ply his trade as both a loose forward and a second row in Super Rugby, and in his younger days in club rugby, as a wing!
“His performances speak for themselves,” Deans says.
“Seven years after he first played Test matches, he has got into good shape physically and has shown that he still has an appetite for rugby at this level.”
Sydney fans have the opportunity to meet the Wallabies when the team holds a Fan day around its season-opener against Samoa at ANZ Stadium next Sunday.
The match is the fifth Test to be played between Australia and Samoa with the day also providing the opportunity for a reunion of the first Wallabies side to play the Pacific Islanders, during the 1991 Rugby World Cup tournament, which Australia went on to win.
The Castrol Edge Tri Nations Series opens six days after the Samoa Test, with Sydney again the venue as South Africa appears in the harbour city for the first time since 2007.
The opening two weekends of August see the Wallabies in action in Auckland and Durban, before the Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup finale against the All Blacks pits the trans-Tasman rivals against each other in Brisbane for the first time since 2008.
Although the Tri Nations has this year been abridged to a home-and-away round, Deans expects the tournament to be no less intense, even with September’s Rugby World Cup hovering in the background.
Australia hasn’t won the Tri Nations since 2001, and last held the Bledisloe Cup in 2002, although it recaptured the Mandela Challenge Plate off South Africa last year.
The Wallabies have won their most recent matches with both South Africa and New Zealand, with both wins being claimed outside of Australia after a drama-filled 41-39 win over the Springboks at Bloemfontein during last year’s tournament, and the equally dramatic 26-24 win over the All Blacks at Hong Kong during the Bledisloe Cup Test which opened the last Spring Tour.
The Wallabies squad will assemble in Sydney today and tomorrow, with the first training run to be held tomorrow afternoon.
The Qantas Wallabies squad to play the Castrol Edge Rugby Test against Samoa and contest the 2011 Castrol Edge Tri Nations is:
Player Position State Age Appearances
Rocky Elsom ©
Tatafu Polota Nau
Sunday July 17: Qantas Wallabies v Samoa, Sydney
Saturday July 23: Qantas Wallabies v South Africa, Sydney
Saturday August 6: Qantas Wallabies v New Zealand, Auckland
Saturday August 13: Qantas Wallabies v South Africa, Durban
Saturday August 27: Qantas Wallabies v New Zealand, Brisbane