Wallabies prepare for Tri Nations assault
July 11, 2008

"Giteau continues to grow in stature, with 47 points to his name in the Wallabies' three clashes so far this year, but more importantly his play-making skills filling the void of the influential Larkham." Graham Jenkins writes

Australia will make a delayed entrance into this year's Tri Nations battle with arguably more to prove than their two title rivals.

The Wallabies' quarter-final exit at the hands of England at last year's World Cup served as a body blow to Australian rugby but hope soon returned following the confirmation that Robbie Deans would take the coaching reins.

Kiwi Deans stepped into his new role fresh from capturing his fifth Super 14 title with the all-conquering Crusaders and was immediately charged with returning the Wallabies to the top of the world game.

Stripped of the experience and class of the likes of George Gregan and Stephen Larkham following their international retirements it is up to Deans to nurture the next generation of Wallabies.

Deans still has plenty of experience at his disposal to help him with this task with the world-class Stirling Mortlock and Matt Giteau the prime examples.

Both will be key to any success in this year's Tri Nations both on the field and off it as Deans looks to cultivate the undoubted talent in the squad.

The likes of Berrick Barnes, Luke Burgess, Lachie Turner and James Horwill are bursting with potential if only Deans can unlock and channel it.

Deans also has made a couple of clever appointments in naming former Wallabies Michael Foley and Jim Williams as his assistants.

The Waratahs provided the only highlights for Australia in this year's Super 14 and were rewarded when it came to Deans' first squad announcement.

A solid defensive platform carried them all the way to the title-decider where they were edged out by Deans' side in a close finale.

The Western Force. Brumbies and Reds were all found wanting perhaps leaving Deans, who will have witnessed their strengths and weaknesses at first hand, with more questions than answers.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Wallabies started off slowly this summer with a hard-fought 18-12 victory over Ireland in Melbourne where they struggled to provide the new attacking style of play promised by Deans.

Giteau's partnership with half-back Burgess offered reason for hope but they were far from the finished article.

But improvement came in what proved to be a bruising two-Test series with France with a 34-13 victory in Sydney and then a record-breaking 40-10 triumph in Brisbane.

Giteau continues to grow in stature, with 47 points to his name in the Wallabies' three clashes so far this year, but more importantly his play-making skills filling the void of the influential Larkham.

Deans' Tri Nations squad announcement earlier this month included former rugby league star Timana Tahu who is set to join an elite group of sportsmen who have been selected to represent Australia in both rugby union and rugby league.

The 27-year-old centre is one of three players rewarded for their performances for Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup - the others being winger Drew Mitchell and flanker Hugh McMeniman - the latter being called in as a replacement for theinjured Nathan Sharpe.

Elsewhere, lock Daniel Vickerman also makes his entry into the Wallabies reckoning after being forced to miss the opening three matches of the international season due to injury.

Cut from the initial squad were Digby Ioane, Mark Chisholm, Stephen Hoiles and Cameron Shepherd, with the latter set to be out for the rest of the season after breaking his ankle in the second Test against France.

"All of the players who have missed out have more to contribute at this level. It's just a reality that our selection pool has grown," commented Deans, highlighting what has been a common complaint about the depth of talent available.

"The quality of some of the blokes that we have coming into the squad, which has been proven previously at Test level, can't be denied."

While injury restricted the involvements of prop Matt Dunning, hooker Tatafu Polata-Nau, winger Lote Tuqiri and No 8 Wycliff Palu during the opening phase of the Bundaberg Rum Rugby Series; all four are expected to be fit for some involvement when the squad assembles for training at Manly tomorrow.

Deans said the retention of 26 members of the squad that contested the first three Tests of the year reflected the selectors' satisfaction with the progress that had been made.

"We're relatively happy with where we sit heading into the Tri-Nations," Deans says.

"We've made some solid progress, in terms of building up the combination within the squad, as well as developing the general understanding of our method."

"History shows how difficult the Tri-Nations is to win. This year will be no different," Deans says.

"You only have to look at how competitive last Saturday night's game [the Tri-Nations opener between New Zealand and South Africa] was, to see how demanding this tournament is going to be."

Australia, which has previously won the tournament in 2000 and 2001, opens its campaign with the visit of South Africa to Perth on 19 July.

The four-match Bledisloe Cup series then commences the following weekend, when the All Blacks visit ANZ Stadium in Sydney on 26 July.

That series will stretch beyond the Tri-Nations tournament, concluding with the historic Test match in Hong Kong on 1 November.

Then it is across the Tasman to face the All Blacks in Auckland on 2 August followed later in the month by back-to-back away matches against the Springboks (23 & 30 August).

Those games, which will be played in Durban and Johannesburg, will also double as being for the Mandela Challenge Plate.

The curtain will come down on the Tri Nations when the Wallabies play host to New Zealand in Brisbane on 9 September.

Wallabies squad:
Backs: Adam Ashley Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Luke Burgess, Sam Cordingley, Ryan Cross, Matt Giteau, Peter Hynes, Drew Mitchell, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Brett Sheehan, Timana Tahu, Lote Tuqiri, Lachlan Turner

Forwards: Ben Alexander, Al Baxter, Richard Brown, Matt Dunning, Rocky Elsom, Adam Freier, James Horwill, Hugh McMeniman, Dean Mumm, Stephen Moore, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith, Phil Waugh, Dan Vickerman.

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