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The final six places in the Qantas Wallabies squad for the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour have been confirmed today with Hugh McMeniman arriving in from Perth to join Kurtley Beale, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe, Peter Kimlin and Scott Sio as the newcomers at the training base on the Sunshine Coast ahead of the three Test series, which opens in Brisbane on June 22.
Melbourne Rebels halfback Luke Burgess and the Queensland Reds hooker James Hanson will remain with the squad this week as training cover.
In addition, Australia’s 2011 Tri-Nations-winning skipper James Horwill has been confirmed as Qantas Wallabies skipper, returning to the role he last held on the Spring Tour two years ago, before a hamstring injury last year ruled him out of the entire Test season.
McCabe and McMeniman proved their fitness for selection during last weekend’s Australian only Super Rugby round, turning out for the Brumbies and Western Force respectively, while Beale and Ioane were all involved in some capacity during last week’s preliminary squad training camp in Sydney.
Kimlin, who has been a mainstay for the Brumbies and finished last Friday night’s win over the Melbourne Rebels as captain of the side, gained his call up after playing the only two Tests of his career to date against Italy at Canberra and Melbourne in 2009.
The sixth new addition is the uncapped Brumbies prop Scott Sio, who has impressed during his full rookie Super Rugby season with the Australian conference winners, having been blooded briefly while on a development contract last term.
The powerful 21-year-old, who is one of four uncapped players in the squad, is the son of Tevita Sio; who anchored the Manu Samoa front-row during that country’s maiden Rugby World Cup voyage.
An Australian Schools representative as a loose forward on its tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2009; Sio was born in Sydney while his father was on tour propping the Manu Samoa scrum at the second world championship in 1991.
His prowess, working alongside Wallaby front-rowers Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander and Dan Palmer at the Brumbies, was first recognised by his inclusion at the last of the three pre-international season logistics camps.
“Scott has had a remarkable year,” Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says.
“While he is still developing his game, his work rate around the field, impact in contact and in defence, and the raw power he brings to his set piece indicated to us that he was ready to get underway.”
The Trinity College (Sydney) product, who converted to the front-row after leaving school, is one of five props in the squad, with the upcoming Test series operating under the dynamic first introduced on last year’s Spring Tour which caters for the inclusion of four props in an enlarged match night squad of 23 players.
Deans, who attended both the Brumbies-Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds-British & Irish Lions fixtures last weekend; says the selection of the final places in the squad hadn’t been easy, being further complicated by additional injuries – most notably to the Brumbies halfback Nic White and prop Dan Palmer.
The in-form number nine White, who started off as the Brumbies captain during last Friday’s win over the Rebels and had attended last week’s Qantas Wallabies training camp in Sydney, sustained a small fracture in his shoulder during the early stages of that match which has ruled him out for three to four weeks.
“Ultimately it’s come down to the balance of the group. And there has been a ‘ripple effect’ so to speak, with the decisions made in some areas having repercussions in others,” Deans said.
Beale’s versatility, having proven himself at Test level at both fullback and flyhalf, won his place, with Deans saying he had no concerns as to either the players’ physical state or mental well-being despite his limited on-field preparation as he has attended to off-field issues.
While the process of counselling for alcohol-related issues is on-going, Deans doesn’t believe it is a distraction for either Beale or the team.
The Qantas Wallabies coach has been closely involved with the player through both the counselling process and his physical maintenance during this period, and does not believe it is too soon for Beale to re-enter the national side.
“We know what Kurtley is capable of in this arena. He showed that as recently as last year’s Spring Tour when he performed outstandingly and led the team from flyhalf in adverse circumstances against many of the opposition players we now face again,” Deans says.
“His work last week during the first camp supported our contention that it was not too soon for him to get started again, from either a physical or a mental stand point. His physical state is a testament, both to how hard he has worked, but also his desire to get started again.”
The decision to include Beale, Deans says, was not taking lightly and was supported by those involved in his counselling programme.
It is also supported by the successful reintroduction the Bulldogs rugby league fullback Ben Barba made to the NRL earlier this year after undertaking a similar off-field counselling programme as that Beale has completed.
McCabe’s inclusion adds another experienced midfield hand to counter the Lions’ massive backline, with the hard-running Brumbies inside centre having acted as both a member of the team’s leadership group and as its defensive rock in recent seasons.
Ioane’s attendance at last week’s camp allowed medical staff to assess the progress on the rehabilitation of his right knee following surgery, clearing the way for his involvement, with a return date to be determined as his training load increases.
Kimlin returns to the Wallabies after a four-year absence, offering versatility to the forward unit having featured at lock, the blindside flank and No 8 in Super Rugby this year.
For McMeniman, who made a successful return from a shoulder injury last Sunday in Perth; selection rewards his decision to return to Australia and Super Rugby this year after four years playing in Japan.
The versatility of the hard-nosed 29-year-old, who has played 21 Tests, has helped vault the lock-blindside flanker into the squad after the Wallabies lost the injured Sitaleki Timani and Scott Higginbotham from these positions in the penultimate round of Super Rugby prior to the start of the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour Test series.
Deans, who capped McMeniman on nine occasions prior to his departure for Japan at the end of 2008, says his return to the national side should offer encouragement for other Australian players based overseas to not give up on another shot at the Wallabies if they return home.
One who fits into that category is the 37-Test halfback Burgess, who last Friday resumed his Australian career after two seasons with the glamour French Top 14 club Toulouse, by appearing as a replacement for the Rebels during their loss in Canberra.
The decision to train Burgess and Hanson alongside the squad acts as insurance in case of injuries in these specialist positions during the Test series.
“Not only will it help us prepare, it gets them started in case we need them, either against the Lions or down the track in the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship,” Deans says.
“Certainly our recent experience with injury highlights the need to prepare with extensive cover to ensure relatively seamless change should it be required.”
The Qantas Wallabies squad for the DHL Australia 2013 Lions tour is:
James Horwill ©
DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour Test Schedule
Tom Richards Trophy
Saturday June 22: First Test; Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Saturday June 29: Second Test; Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
Saturday July 6: Third Test; ANZ Stadium, Sydney