Coach Michael Cheika named five foreign-based stars and four uncapped players on Friday in a 33-man Wallabies squad for the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaigns starting this month.
The squad is bolstered by experienced French-based Test campaigners Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and Quade Cooper (main pix) in defence of Australia’s Rugby Championship crown.
Fly-half Cooper is due to return to Australia ahead of next year’s Super Rugby season following a brief stint with French powerhouse Toulon, where he linked with Giteau and Mitchell for the 2015/16 Top 14 season.
Fellow French-based scrum-half Genia is also included as he returns from a knee injury that has kept him out of action since January. He edges out Nick Frisby with winger Luke Morahan and prop Toby Smith also cut from the squad.
Giteau said the Wallabies could give the world champion All Blacks a run for their money this season.
“They [New Zealand] are the most consistent team, they’ve got the most depth out of all the players going on Super Rugby form,” he told reporters. “So it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be tough.
“But I think the players we’ve got here, the coaching staff and with as hard as the players are working, we’ve definitely got the team to put up a great fight.”
All four uncapped players included in Cheika’s initial train-on squad — Allan Ala’alatoa, Reece Hodge, Tom Robertson and Lopeti Timani — were retained in the final squad ahead of the four-nation tournament, which also features South Africa and Argentina.
Israel Folau is likely to play at fullback despite being deployed in the centres for the NSW Waratahs this season, Cheika said.
“I think no matter where he plays he’ll be an influence on the game but I like him back there (at fullback)…and what he can do in the wider channels and I’d suggest more than likely that’s where he’s going to play,” said Cheika.
“I think also we’ve seen (incumbent No. 13) Tevita Kuridrani improve his season towards the end.”
Three debutants from the recent England Test series are also in the running to add to their Test tally with Samu Kerevi, Adam Coleman and Dane Haylett-Petty all included.
Lock Kane Douglas is in the squad for the first time this year after returning from a knee reconstruction, while his second row partner Rob Simmons has also made his way back from a shoulder injury which cut short his Super Rugby campaign.
Kurtley Beale, Rory Arnold and Joe Tomane were not considered for selection because of injury.
The Wallabies open their Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaigns against New Zealand in Sydney on August 20.
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Quade Cooper, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Matt Giteau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Rob Horne, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Drew Mitchell, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua.
Forwards: Allan Ala’alatoa, Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, James Hanson, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Stephen Moore (capt), Dean Mumm, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, Will Skelton, James Slipper, Lopeti Timani. – Agence France-Presse