Tri Nations 2008
Deans era set to get underway
July 19, 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.
Wallabie coach Robbie Deans is confident of his squad's fitness © Getty Images

The return to duty of Lote Tuqiri, Wycliff Palu and Nathan Sharpe highlight the Wallabies side that has been announced today for Saturday night's Tri Nations Test against South Africa.

The experienced trio are back in the starting line-up for the Tri-Nations opener in Perth after missing Australia's 40-10 second Test win over France in Brisbane.

Tuqiri (knee) and Palu (shoulder) were ruled out of that match due to injuries that were sustained a week earlier during the first international against that opponent, while a groin injury suffered at training in the lead-up rubbed out Sharpe.

All three have trained freely this week since the squad assembled in Perth.

In doing so, they have convinced Wallabies coach Robbie Deans of their fitness for the assignment ahead.

Deans watched Palu as he got through 50 minutes for the Manly Marlins in the New South Wales club championship at Manly Oval last weekend.

Tuqiri and Sharpe didn't play club rugby, but both contributed fully during the final training of last week's three-day camp at Manly. Neither player has shown any inhibitions from their injuries during the Wallabies' preparations this week.

"They're all looking good and ready to go again," Deans says.

"We needed to be absolutely certain that they were right, because the South Africans are going to be the most physical opponent we have played so far. By allowing them all time, we're happy that they are at the level, both physically and mentally, that they need to be to play."

The Western Force skipper, Sharpe has made a timely re-entry into the second row given that NSW Waratahs lock Dan Vickerman is still not quite ready to return to Test rugby after being troubled by an ankle complaint.

Vickerman will play club rugby in Sydney again this weekend to further his preparation towards a Test return. In the meantime, the versatile Queensland Reds forward Hugh McMeniman, who returned to the international arena via the bench in the second French Test, has retained his place in the match day squad.

Sharpe is looking forward to running out in front of an expected capacity - and he hopes exceedingly vocal - home crowd at Subiaco Oval.

"Western Australians are pretty passionate about their rugby, whether it is following the Force, or the Wallabies," Sharpe says.

"All the boys are looking forward to playing at Subiaco again, and putting in a big one."

Sharpe is one of four Force players to have made the cut, being joined by flyhalf Matt Giteau, and run on reserves Ryan Cross and Drew Mitchell.

Cross, this year's Western Force Player of the Year, retains his place after scoring two tries off the bench in Brisbane. Mitchell steps into the spot vacated by his injured provincial colleague, Cameron Shepherd.

The bolter on the bench is Tatafu Polota-Nau, who has won a spot after making his playing return at club level last weekend for Parramatta.

Prior to that outing, the NSW Waratahs hooker hadn't featured since the Investec Super 14 final against the Crusaders at the end of May, due to an injured hand.

"Tatafu offers genuine impact. His ability to carry could potentially be invaluable in the latter stages of what I'd expect will be a high tempo game," Deans says.

"While he's only had one club run since the Super 14 finished, the nature of his injury was such that he was still able to train, so his fitness base didn't suffer too much. He's also had two full weeks in camp which has helped bring him up to the level of the rest of the squad."

Mitchell comes straight into the match day squad, after having made his return from injury with Australia A.

He offers many of the same attributes that the luckless Shepherd had provided, in terms of being comfortable both at fullback and on the wing, Deans said.

A feature of Saturday night's match is that it will see ACT Brumbies flanker George Smith clock up his 87th Test appearance.

That advances him beyond the career tallies achieved by the legendary John Eales and Joe Roff, making him both the most capped forward in Australian history, but also the third most capped Wallaby of all-time.

Smith, who played inside centre for his Manly club last weekend, has swapped roles with Phil Waugh, who started two weeks ago, although Deans acknowledged that Waugh was likely to see game time.

Last year's Rugby World Cup winner, South Africa arrived in Perth fresh from last weekend's historic 30-28 win over New Zealand in Dunedin; its first win in that country for a decade.

"Their record speaks for itself," Deans said.

"Historically playing South Africa has always been a massive challenge, and recent events have probably only added to the significance of this assignment, but it's one that we're excited about as a group and looking forward to."

Six of the squad named today - winger Peter Hynes, inside centre Berrick Barnes, halfback Luke Burgess, lock James Horwill and run on reserves Polota-Nau and Cross - will be facing South Africa for the first time.

Pierre Spies, Francois Steyn, Conrad Jantjes all return to the Springboks line-up while Schalk Brits will wear the number 2 jersey in place of the suspended Bismarck du Plessis.

Spies got the nod ahead of Joe van Niekerk who played in the previous two Tri-Nations matches against the All Blacks; World Cup winning centre Steyn replaces the injured Adrian Jacobs and Jantjes reclaims the no. 15-jersey from veteran Percy Montgomery.

Newcomer Adriaan Strauss, who joined the squad on Tuesday as back-up hooker, was included as one of the replacements.

This will be the fourth match between Australia and South Africa at the Subiaco Oval in Perth, following on from 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2005. South Africa has won in Perth twice previously 14-13 in 1998 and 22-19 three years ago.

Flanker Juan Smith is edging closer towards the 50 Test cap mark and he now needs only two more caps to join a selected group of players who have represented the Springboks on 50 occasions or more.

Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Berrick Barnes, Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess, Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Matt Dunning, Hugh McMeniman, Phil Waugh, Sam Cordingley, Ryan Cross, Drew Mitchell.

South Africa: Conrad Jantjes; JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana; Butch James, Enrico Januarie; Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield (captain), Bakkies Botha, CJ van der Linde, Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira, Brian Mujati, Andries Bekker, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Peter Grant.

Referee: B. Lawrence
Touch Judges: L. Bray, C. Pollock
TMO: G. Newman

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