Wallaby Under 21's face tricky start
June 10, 2004

Australia's quest to win the Under 21 World Championship begins with a tough assignment against France in Glasgow on Friday and coach Laurie Fisher has selected his strongest possible squad for the encounter against a French team that is largely unknown to the young Wallabies.

"I assume France will be a similar side to last year and the weather conditions here probably favour the northern hemisphere teams," said Fisher.

NSW Waratahs flanker Rocky Elsom, who was one of the stars of the tournament in 2003, misses the clash because of a persistent hamstring injury, which is being allowed more time to rest.

Australia has finished as runner's up in the two previous World Championships and in 2001 they were runner's up to New Zealand in the SANZAR/UAR Under 21 competition.

Although Fisher's aim is obviously to win the tournament and change that rather dubious statistic, he does not view the 2004 event as some sort of revenge mission for last year's defeat at the hands of the young All Blacks.

"What happened last year or the year before is irrelevant to us because a lot of the players weren't involved in 2003 or 2002," said Fisher. "Of course we have come here to try and win the tournament but the only way to do that is to make sure we work on our game and make sure we play to the best of our ability.

"We have a strong side and for our opening match two of the forwards played last year, while the rest are all in their final year of Under 21s, so they are pretty experienced."

"Behind the scrum, four of the backs played in 2003 and we have some good Super 12 experience there as well, but we have some holes to fill."

"A player like Mark Gerrard gave us many options last year and Lachlan Mackay was superb at flyhalf so those are two positions where the new players will have to really step up."

Queensland Reds utility back Drew Mitchell, who was one of the stand-out performers in Oxford in 2003, will captain the team from fullback. NSW Waratahs wing Cameron Shepherd adds further Super 12 experience to the backline, slotting in at right wing, while Digby Ioane, joint top try scorer at the Under 19 World Championship in South Africa earlier this year, takes his place on the left wing.

Queensland's Josh Graham plays at outside centre while NSW's Adam Ashley-Cooper will wear the key number 12 jersey.

ACT's Daniel Halangahu starts in the all important flyhalf position. He will be partnered at halfback by the promising Reds scrumhalf Josh Valentine, who adds a third Super 12 head to the back division.

Queenslander Mitch Chapman adds height to the back row in the number eight position, while Lei Tomiki, the NSW flanker brings his abrasive tackling and excellent foraging skills to the mix. Richard Brown from Queensland completes the back row.

ACT's Simon Hockings and NSW's Alex Kanaar team up in the second row, with the Queensland trio of Rodney Blake at loosehead, Hermon Hunt at tighthead and Steve Moore at hooker completing the front row.

Australian Under 21 team:
15 Drew Mitchell (c), 14 Cameron Shepherd, 13 Josh Graham, 12 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11 Digby Iaone, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Mitch Chapman, 7 Lei Tomiki, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Alex Kanaar, 4 Simon Hockings, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Steve Moore, 1 Hermon Hunt. Reserves: 16 Ole Avei, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Tom Egan, 19 Josh Fuimaono, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Chris Lyons, 22 Chris Siale.

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