Greg Growden August 07, 2012
Call-up ... Nathan Sharpe has been named by Wallabies selectors for the Rugby Championship. Photo: Iain McGregor
THE Wallabies selectors love picking novices, but have shown by including Drew Mitchell, Radike Samo and Nathan Sharpe in the 30-man Rugby Championship squad they haven't forgotten their tribal elders.
Waratahs forward Kane Douglas won the tight fight with the Rebels Cadeyrn Neville for the last of four second-row spots in a squad that will be announced this morning for the Test series against the All Blacks, Springboks and Argentina. The first international, which will double as the start of the three-Test Bledisloe Cup series, will be against the All Blacks in Sydney on August 18.
The two other newcomers to the Wallabies squad are Reds back-rowers Liam Gill, who captained the Australian under-20 team at the recent Youth World Cup in South Africa, and Jake Schatz, who excelled in the final rounds of the Super Rugby tournament.
While there are new faces, the importance of international experience at this time of the season is emphasised by the selection of Mitchell, Samo and the selectors also putting pressure on Sharpe to continue playing Test football even though he was originally retiring at the end of the Super Rugby season.
Mitchell and Samo were not involved in the June domestic Tests series against Scotland and Wales and, following spasmodic appearances for their provinces, there were serious doubts over whether they would return to the Wallabies fold.
After suffering major ankle and hamstring injuries, Mitchell pondered at the start of the year whether he had played his last game. But the perseverance that saw him return for the final rounds of the Waratahs' flawed season enabled him firstly to make the Wallabies train-on squad, and now the final 30-man cut. It is certainly not beyond the 28-year-old winger to soon add to his tally of 58 Test caps.
The winger depth in Australian rugby is not overwhelming, with the Rebels' Cooper Vuna the latest to be sidelined through injury. His nagging shoulder problem requires surgery.
Samo, the forever young back-rower who found himself on the wing in one pool match of last year's World Cup, also had problems with his shoulder that restricted his appearances for the Reds this season.
But Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has long been an admirer of the 36-year-old, knowing that even if he's not holding down a starting XV position, Samo can still make a devastating impact from the bench.
Sharpe's inclusion is not a thank-you for long service, with Deans instead believing that the 34-year-old with 105 Test caps is at the peak of his form, which will see him start the Sydney Test against the All Blacks, with Sitaleki Timani his most probable second-row partner. It appears that Timani is slightly ahead of the Reds' Rob Simmons on the second-row pecking order.
Another area of concern is at halfback, as the third-choice halfback Nic White from the Brumbies is being used as cover until an operation on his shoulder next month.
Where the Wallabies have strong depth is at No.7, with the selectors picking three specialist openside breakaways in captain David Pocock, Gill and Michael Hooper, soon to leave the Brumbies for the Waratahs. Gill and Hooper will be fighting for the Wallabies bench.
Those to miss out from the extended training squad who were involved in a three-day camp in Sydney last week are Vuna, Nick Cummins, Dom Shipperley, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, who is injured, Neville and James Hanson. Reds hooker Saia Faingaa moves back into the squad.