Seven uncapped players have been included among the 35-man Qantas Wallabies squad announced today for the 2009 Spring Tour, among a travelling party which also includes a new captain, Rocky Elsom, and vice captain, in Berrick Barnes.
The tour, which kicks off at the end of the month in Japan, will incorporate Australia's first attempt at a Grand Slam of the UK and Ireland in 25 years.
While Western Force flanker Matt Hodgson and NSW Waratahs utility back Kurtley Beale had been involved within the Qantas Wallabies set-up during the Bundaberg Rum Rugby Series earlier in the year, the tour will represent the first Qantas Wallabies' involvements for five others.
These are Queensland Reds halfback Richard Kingi, NSW Waratahs midfield back Rob Horne, Brumbies blindside flanker Mitchell Chapman, NSW Waratahs lock Dave Dennis and ACT Brumbies prop Salesi Ma'afu.
The new leadership group is headed up by Elsom, 26, who has played 44 Tests for his country, having debuted against Samoa in 2005.
He returned to Australia earlier this year in time to play four times during the Tri Nations, after a successful off-season in Ireland where he helped the Dublin-based Leinster club annex its maiden European Cup title. He now becomes Australia's 76th Test captain.
Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans felt that the time was right to adjust the leadership of the team.
Stirling Mortlock was the incumbent captain when Deans took over last year.
"Stirling has done a good job as Australian skipper, both before I became involved, and over the last 16 months. He also understands that this initiative has no meaning in terms of his playing future. He has indicated a desire to continue not only to play but also to lead and we respect that," Deans says.
For Deans, leadership has never been about title, but more about actions.
Deans has also historically shown a preference for the captain to be in the forward pack.
"Although George [Smith] did a sound job taking over once Stirling [Mortlock] was injured this season, we feel the role has never really sat naturally with him. Captaincy requires a big commitment both on and away from the field and we believe George is better served not being saddled with the additional responsibility. He still has the opportunity to contribute leadership within the group."
Deans says Elsom appealed as the best option for the position, both due to his certainty in terms of selection, and ability to lead from the front.
"Rocky has the respect of his team-mates because of his approach and the total commitment he brings to the game," Deans says.
Twenty seven of the players selected today featured for the Wallabies earlier in the year, in either the mid-year Test window or during the Tri Nations.
Three players who were members of the pre-tour training squad - lock Nathan Sharpe, uncapped winger Nick Cummins and flanker Phil Waugh, were not considered due to injury. Sharpe and Cummins both have injuries which ruled them out for the entire tour while Waugh was not going to be available for the first fixtures.
The other player to miss selection from the Tri Nations squad is prop Al Baxter.
"The nature of the playing schedules is such that we get few windows of opportunity outside of Tests in which to introduce players," Deans says.
"This tour provides us with a development opportunity, through our two midweek games. That is why we have opted to introduce some younger players, as opposed to taking along players whose capabilities we are already aware of.
"Clearly players who fall into that category are the likes of Baxter and possibly Waugh."
The Wallabies assemble in Sydney next week, before departing for Tokyo, and this season's final Bledisloe Cup Test against the All Blacks, on 24 October.
The tour then moves on to the UK and Ireland, with England first-up during a four-week period where the squad will face four Tests, alongside mid-week matches against English Premiership club Gloucester and a still to be confirmed opponent in Wales.
The Qantas Wallabies Squad for the 2009 Spring Tour, incorporating Australia's first Grand Slam attempt in 25 years, is:
Ben Alexander (Prop Brumbies), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Fullback-Wing Brumbies), **Berrick Barnes (Inside centre-Flyhalf Queensland Reds), Kurtley Beale (Flyhalf/Fullback NSW Waratahs), Richard Brown (No 8/Loose Forward Western Force), Luke Burgess (Halfback NSW Waratahs), Mitchell Chapman (Blindside Flanker Brumbies), Mark Chisholm (Lock Brumbies), Quade Cooper (Flyhalf Queensland Reds), Pekahou Cowan (Prop Western Force), Ryan Cross (Centre Western Force), Dave Dennis (Lock NSW Waratahs), Matt Dunning (Prop Western Force), *Rocky Elsom (Flanker Brumbies), Will Genia (Halfback Queensland Reds), Matt Giteau (Flyhalf Western Force), Matt Hodgson (Loose forward Western Force), Rob Horne (Centre NSW Waratahs), James Horwill (Lock Queensland Reds), Peter Hynes (Wing Queensland Reds), Digby Ioane (Wing/Centre Queensland Reds), Sekope Kepu (Prop NSW Waratahs), Richard Kingi (Halfback Queensland Reds), Salesi Ma'afu (Prop Brumbies), Drew Mitchell (Wing/Fullback Western Force), Stephen Moore (Hooker Brumbies), Stirling Mortlock (Centre Brumbies), Dean Mumm (Lock/Loose-forward NSW Waratahs), James O'Connor (Fullback Western Force), Wycliff Palu (No 8 NSW Waratahs), David Pocock (Flanker Western Force), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Hooker NSW Waratahs), Benn Robinson (Prop NSW Waratahs), George Smith (Flanker Brumbies), Lachie Turner (Wing/Fullback NSW Waratahs)
* = captain
** = vice captain
Confirmed Tour Schedule
Sat 31 Oct, Qantas Wallabies v All Blacks, Bledisloe Cup, National Stadium, Tokyo
Tue 3 Nov, Qantas Wallabies v Gloucester, Kingsholm, Gloucester 7.45pm
Sat 7 Nov, Qantas Wallabies v England, Cook Cup, Twickenham, London 2.30pm
Sun 15 Nov, Qantas Wallabies v Ireland, Lansdowne Cup, Croke Park, Dublin 3pm
Sat 21 Nov, Qantas Wallabies v Scotland, Hopetoun Cup, Murrayfield, Edinburgh 5.15pm
Sat 28 Nov, Qantas Wallabies v Wales, James Bevan Trophy, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff 5.15pm
Grand Slam Tour Notes
• This is the eighth potential Grand Slam tour of the British Isles to have been conducted by an Australian team since the 1928-29 NSW Waratahs, who beat Wales and Ireland but lost to Scotland and England.
• Further Grand Slam attempts were made in 1947-48 (won three, lost to Wales), 1957-58 (lost all four Tests), 1966-67 (won two, lost to Scotland and Ireland), 1975-76 (beat Ireland, lost the other three) & 1981-82 (beat Ireland, lost the other three).
• Australia finally achieved its maiden Grand Slam at its seventh attempt in 1984, beating England 19-3, Ireland 16-9, Wales 28-9 and Scotland 37-12. Flyhalf Mark Ella scored tries in all four Tests.
• The 1984 tourists, who were the eighth Wallabies to tour the British Isles, played 18 matches during their two month visit, winning 13, losing four and drawing one. As well as the Grand Slam, the '84 side also beat the Barbarians in the tour finale, 37-30.
• Seventeen members of the Qantas Wallabies squad named today to under-take Australia's latest attempt on a Grand Slam hadn't been born when the successful 1984 tour was made.
• South Africa has successfully achieved a Grand Slam of the British Isles on four occasions (1912-13, 1931-32, 1951-52 & 1960-61) from eight attempts, but has failed in its three most recent attempts - including 2004 when the then reigning Tri Nations champions lost to both Ireland and England.
• New Zealand failed in its first four Slam attempts & had to wait until 1978 & the All Blacks' seventh tour of the British Isles before a quartet of Test victories was finally achieved. The All Blacks have now achieved the Slam on each of their last three attempts - 1978, 2005 and 2008.
Speaking to the local media this week, Richard Hibbard expressed his excitement ahead of the West Country derby and that there is an extra spring in the step of the Cherry and Whites ahead of the tough challenge.
With such a short turnaround between the two games, and Gloucester looking to reintegrate several players into the line-up after the Autumn international series, Tom Savage told GRTV that the Cherry and Whites will keep changes to a minimum for the European Rugby Challenge Cup game in Zebre on Saturday.
Gloucester travel to Italy this weekend to take on Zebre in Round Four of the European Rugby Challenge Cup. The Cherry and Whites defeated the Italian side 35-10 last Sunday, but Director of Rugby David Humphreys is looking for an improved performance in the return fixture.
On a tough evening at Kingsholm, Gloucester could escape neither a suffocating Bath defence, nor the whistle of referee Greg Garner as six penalties and a penalty try paved the way to a 39-16 win for the visitors.
Gloucester Rugby welcome Sione Kalamafoni, Greig Laidlaw and Tom Palmer back to the starting line up and feature David Halaifonua in a matchday squad for the first time, as they resume Aviva Premiership action against Bath Rugby at Kingsholm on Saturday (kick off 5:30pm).