The Rugby Championship
Ewen McKenzie picks 10 uncapped players
July 26, 2013
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie speaks to the media at the announcement of Australia's squad for the Rugby Championship © Getty Images
New Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has named 10 uncapped players in his 40-man squad for the four-nation Rugby Championship.
Mckenzie called up Peter Betham, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Scott Fardy, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani, Hugh Pyle, Jake Schatz, Scott Sio, Matt Toomua and Nic White in his first national squad since being named to replace Robbie Deans.
McKenzie, who said when he succeeded Deans that he was unlikely to make radical changes early in his tenure, also considered Cam Crawford, Kyle Godwin and Rod Davies but the uncapped trio we unavailable due to injury.
The Super Rugby 2011-winning former Queensland Reds coach, as expected, also called Quade Cooper in from the international wilderness ahead of the Rugby Championship-opening Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Sydney on August 17. Cooper hasn't featured for the Wallabies since 2012, when he was fined for publicly criticising Deans' national team set up as "toxic".
Ewen Mckenzie's First Wallabies Squad
"At this stage it's important that as many players as possible gain exposure to our program and that everyone is receiving an opportunity to push their case for selection before we narrow down our squad," McKenzie said of his selection. "The first five days will be invaluable in this respect as there are some players I know very well and others that I'm interested in learning more about.
"What I do know, though, as is evidenced by the fact that we've chosen 10 uncapped players for the training camp, is that Australian rugby does have a lot of depth and talent coming through, now and for the future. We've taken that very much into consideration with our selections and believe this squad is capable of having success right now, while also expediting the development process for some of the younger guys who we see as having the potential to represent Australia in a few years."
McKenzie said that priority in finalising his squad was given to players committed to Australian rugby in 2014 and beyond, with many decisions favouring players available for Wallabies selection in years to come.
"We've assessed each case on its own merits, but it's important that we are, where possible, making investments in players that are going to provide value for Australian rugby over the next few seasons. That was definitely a major consideration in selecting this training squad.
"With new systems to install, we've also put a lot of weight on those players who are healthy and able to contribute fully in training in the lead-up to our opening two Tests. There is only a very short period before our first match, so it's paramount that the players are in a strong position mentally and physically to be investing all their time now into understanding what we are trying to achieve. We're also trying to develop strong combinations and competition across all positions and you can only do that by having players who are available to train and compete."
In favouring players able to make an immediate impression in training, McKenzie omitted Kurtley Beale and Wycliff Palu alongside uncapped Reds winger Rod Davies, Western Force centre Kyle Godwin and New South Wales Waratahs winger Cam Crawford because of their injuries that had sidelined them with Test regulars David Pocock, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe and Scott Higginbotham.
Beale is set to undergo surgery on his shoulder later this week, and will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2013 season, while Palu will be unavailable during the early stages of Australia's campaign as he continues rehabilitation after knee surgery.
The Wallabies will have just a fortnight to prepare for their back-to-back Tests against the All Blacks as they seek to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.
"It's always going to be challenging when you come up against the No.1 team in the world, but it also gives you the greatest opportunity to make a statement," McKenzie said. "If we want to change where we are in the Rugby landscape, this is a great place to start. Effectively, the Bledisloe Cup is there for the taking if we are good enough over two weekends.
"We'll have some different thoughts and ideas about how we go about it. The reality is we've got to challenge ourselves to do things differently otherwise the outcomes will remain the same. We'll be able to go into that first game in our own backyard, in front of a full house, with some element of surprise. I don't think that's a bad situation."
Ewen McKenzie has complete faith in Quade Cooper as a Test fly-half
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand