Wallabies include teenager O'Connor
September 23, 2008
James O'Connor of the Force runs in for a try during the round 14 Super 14 match between the Western Force and the Brumbies at Subiaco Oval on May 16, 2008 in Perth, Australia
James O'Connor will be heading north with the Wallabies © Getty Images
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Teenager James O'Connor is set to become the second-youngest player ever to pull on an Australia jersey after being named in the squad to tour Europe later this year.

The 18-year-old utility back was one of four new caps unveiled in Robbie Deans' 34-man squad today, joining Western Force team-mate David Pocock, Queensland Reds fly-half Quade Cooper and New South Wales Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu. At 18 years and 80 days, O'Connor should become the second youngest player ever to play for Australia when he first takes the field. The youngest ever Wallaby was Queensland winger Brian Ford, who was 18 years and 90 days when he appeared against New Zealand at Brisbane in 1957.

Reds winger Digby Ioane and Brumbies lock Mark Chisholm also return after being omitted from Australia's squad for the Tri-Nations.

All players from the Tri-Nations squad - including the injured Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Lote Tuqiri and Wycliff Palu - were retained apart from flanker Rocky Elsom and lock Dan Vickerman who have have moved to Europe. Elsom has signed for Ireland's Leinster, while Vickerman will play amateur rugby after opting to resume his studies in Cambridge.

Australia will face New Zealand in Hong Kong on November 1 in the first off-shore Bledisloe Cup contest. Tests against Italy, England, France and Wales will follow before a match against the Barbarians, which marks the 100th anniversary of the first Australia tour of the United Kingdom in 1908.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is confident both players will be fit to take their places on the tour.

"While we were obviously disappointed to fall short in the final game of the Tri-Nations, we had worked hard, in terms of putting ourselves into a position where we could win that tournament," Deans said.

"The task now is to push forward with our development as a team on what will be a challenging tour. It is a great opportunity for us as a group. The players who were involved (in the Tri-Nations) have earned the right to continue with the work that they have started."

Deans added that today's introduction of four further new caps, following on from the eight players who made their debuts earlier in the year during the Bundaberg Rum Rugby Series, will broaden the depth of Australian rugby.

"There is a development aspect to some of the selections we have made today," Deans acknowledged. This was especially a factor in the selection of O'Connor, Deans said.

A product of Brisbane's Nudgee College, O'Connor played for the Australian Schools last year before being secured by the Western Force, for whom he made his Investec Super 14 debut against the Queensland Reds, in April.

The teenager completed his freshman Super rugby campaign with four caps to his name, before adding to his experience on the Force's recent development tour of the United Kingdom.

"James' inclusion at this juncture is not a decision we have made lightly," Deans said. "He is a young man with a bright future. We believe he is good to go in terms of starting his development as an international player. Obviously, his is a special circumstance. He has been included primarily to learn his trade, but we believe he has a lot to offer now, and will only build on that with the experience he will gain in our environment during the next two months."

According to Deans, today's other new caps had all been on the radar since the Super 14. Cooper and Pocock were not considered for the Wallaby squad earlier in the year, instead being released to attend the Under-20 World Cup in Wales. Pocock captained the Australian squad at that tournament.

Kepu, who is a former New Zealand age-group representative, made his debut for the Waratahs earlier in the year, appearing four times in the Investec Super 14. A former No 8, the 22-year-old attended the same High School as rugby legend Jonah Lomu, South Auckland's Wesley College.

Kepu converted to the front row three years ago, and performed strongly for Australia A during the Pacific Nations Cup tournament. He has also acted as propping cover for the Wallabies at training during various stages in the domestic season.

Australia squad:

Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Luke Burgess, Quade Cooper, Sam Cordingley, Ryan Cross, Matt Giteau, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Drew Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock (captain), James O'Connor, Brett Sheehan, Timana Tahu, Lote Tuqiri, Lachlan Turner.

Forwards: Ben Alexander, Al Baxter, Richard Brown, Mark Chisholm, Matt Dunning, Adam Freier, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Hugh McMeniman, Stephen Moore, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith, Phil Waugh.

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