Australian Rugby
Wallabies target strong showing
Keiran Smith
October 13, 2008
Robbie Deans, the Wallabies head coach pictured during the Australian Wallabies training session held at Crusaders in Durban, South Africa on August 26, 2008.
Will Deans' Wallabies take a step forward on their end of year tour of Europe? © Getty Images

After a disappointing Rugby World Cup and a trophy cabinet more bare than the Australian outback Wallabies Coach Robbie Deans has Australian Rugby believing again.

In just his first season at the helm he inspired the Wallabies' first victory in South Africa since 2001 and went within a whisker of claiming the country's first Tri Nations crown in seven attempts.

Deans' next mission is to mastermind a marauding raid of the Northern Hemisphere and secure the Wallabies their first unbeaten end of year tour since Rod Macqueen's team in 1998 (which was only a two match tour against France and England). However, this feat will be all the more difficult as the Wallabies face a busy schedule of six matches over 33 days across two continents.

Renowned for his competitive streak, Deans will no doubt be charting a course to finish the tour undefeated, but he also has one eye on the future and will use the six matches as a chance to experiment and blood some of the Australia's rising stars.

First up for Deans' men is the history-making Bledisloe Cup encounter against New Zealand in Hong Kong on November 1, the first time the storied trophy has traveled outside of Australasia since its inception in 1931. Already a dead rubber, after the All Blacks retained the cup with victories in Auckland and Brisbane earlier in the year, the Wallabies will be desperate to send a warning shot over the bows of Graham Henry and Co for 2009.

The Wallabies then head west for the start of the European leg with a Test against Nick Mallett's Italy in Padova where Australian fans will be expecting a much better effort against the home side after a dismal, yet ultimately victorious, performance two years ago in Rome.

The tour steps up a level as the Wallabies play England and France at Twickenham and Stade de France over consecutive weeks. Despite the squad having significantly turned over since England's gritty victory in the RWC quarter final in Marseille just over a year ago, this is the match the Wallabies will want to win above all others.

It will certainly be a tough ask, as their last trip there in 2005 not only cost Australia its scrum reputation but coach Eddie Jones his job. In truth, the horror of that ill-fated 2005 tour still haunts Australian Rugby and despite significant improvement under forwards coach Michael Foley, the physical and psychological legacy from that beating still exists.

After Paris, it's back to Cardiff, the scene of Australia's only decent outing in the 2007 World Cup, however its virtue is somewhat diminished as the Welsh couldn't even overcome a spirited Fiji a few days later.

The final stop is Wembley to commemorate the centenary of the Wallabies' 1908 London Olympics Gold Medal triumph (the only Australian football code to have ever won an Olympic Medal) against a star-studded Barbarians outfit.

Although of more interest will be the likely inclusion of a number of new faces for this match. General consensus is that the five new faces in the squad - James O'Connor David Pocock, Quade Cooper, Peter Kimlin and Sekope Kepu - will be let off the leash by Robbie Deans to press their claims for the 2009 Tri Nations.

Of all the new faces, it is James O'Connor that has drawn the most excitement downunder. After his lineage made him eligible to play for Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, the 18-year-old utility back is set to become the second youngest Wallaby if he sees game time in November with only 1957 Wallaby winger Brian Ford (who was 18 years and 90 days old) having played for Australia at a younger age.

Called "Rabbit" because of his unique step, it's been a whirlwind 12 months since he pulled on the Australian Schoolboys jersey to play England U18s in Brisbane. In between he represented Australia at Sevens in Hong Kong and Adelaide, before signing a professional contract with the Perth-based Western Force.

After making his debut in familiar surrounds against the Reds in Brisbane, he went on to make four appearances in his first provincial season, and given Australia's shortage of specialist inside backs, he has the opportunity to become the next choice behind regulars Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes. Western Force flanker David Pocock's call up belies more remarkable events in this young man's recent history. Born and raised in rural Zimbabwe, he and his family were forcibly removed from their farm six years ago as part of the Mugabe Government's violent repossession of property from landowners.

The Pocock's sought a new life in Brisbane and it is from here that David went on to be a Schoolboy and Australian age-grade representative, as well as earning 25 Super 14 caps for the Western Force. The most contentious selection decision has been Queensland Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper getting the nod over NSW counterpart Kurtley Beale.

Rather than Cooper being given an opportunity it is more the non-selection of Beale that has raised the eyebrows of some of the local game's aficionados. But considering Cooper's gallant performances for a struggling Queensland Reds against Beale's work behind a world-class Waratahs pack, the ledger is about equal.

In the end it was Beale's lack of match fitness after suffering, firstly, an ankle injury in the Super 14 final and then a hand injury during rehabilitation. Disappointingly for Australia, firebrand lock James Horwill misses the tour due to surgery for an ongoing foot complaint, but this can only assist stalwart Nathan Sharpe.

Having been dropped for the South African leg of the Wallabies Tri Nations campaign, "Sharpie" caught a reprieve when Dan Vickerman was injured in the first game in Durban. Now with Horwill also out, the Western Force captain will get his opportunity to prove Robbie Deans wrong.


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