Twelve uncapped players have been included among a 40-man training squad that has been named today by the national selectors ahead of the seven-match Wallabies Spring Tour of Hong Kong and Europe.
The newcomers are headlined by the evergreen Queensland Reds lock Van Humphries, who is the oldest player named at 34.
One of just two players in the group to have surpassed his 30th birthday – Australia’s most capped second row Nathan Sharpe (32) is the other – Humphries made his state debut for Queensland a decade ago.
He later played for the NSW Waratahs, and has played for clubs in Japan and Italy and at provincial level in New Zealand while also racking up 65 appearances in Super Rugby through his career.
Humphries missed out on selection earlier in the year, despite impressing during the Reds’ revival in Super Rugby, after ending the competition dogged by an ankle injury.
The veteran Queenslander is one of just five players among the uncapped group who has yet to work within the national team framework under head coach Robbie Deans.
The others fresh to the scene are the speedy Queensland Reds and ex-Australian Schoolboys winger Rod Davies, who was unavailable for selection earlier in the year due to a torn hamstring, this year’s Australian Sevens representative, centre Brackin Karauria-Henry, Western Force hooker Nathan Charles; and the ex-Queensland and Western Force second row Pat O’Connor.
Undoubtedly the ‘bolter’ in the group, the 25-year-old lock did attend Wallaby training sessions in Brisbane earlier in the year and is currently plying his trade with Northland in the ITM Cup, New Zealand’s premier provincial competition, after an injury-plagued run through recent seasons.
An Australian Under-21 representative in 2006, O’Connor made his Super Rugby debut during the Western Force’s maiden season, playing against the NSW Waratahs. He will play for the Waratahs in 2011.
While still to earn their Wallaby numbers by playing a Test for Australia; Mitchell Chapman, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Scott Higginbotham, Richard Kingi, Pat McCabe and Matt Toomua have all had previous involvement, whether by touring with the national squad or by being involved in the Australian Barbarians programme against England earlier in the year.
Lock Mark Chisholm and centre Rob Horne (both injured) are the only players who appeared for Australia during the recent Bundaberg Red Tri Nations Series who have not been named, aside from winger Lachie Turner who is away on national Sevens duty.
Although a medial ligament strain in his left knee forced McCabe to miss the Commonwealth Games Sevens, it is still possible he will be fit for the Spring Tour.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the make-up of the training squad reflected the available resources, given the number of players with recent Wallabies experience currently injured.
“The fact that most of the uncapped blokes have at least had some time with us is a positive, in terms of their level of background,” Deans says.
“We are not totally starting at zero as far as their knowledge of our method and our environment is concerned.”
Deans says the selection of a 40-man group would allow a wider base of players to be exposed to the strategy and methodology that will be employed on the tour. This would give the Wallabies a significant level of back-up depth should it be required.
“It’s a reality that not every player who attends the training camp over the next two weeks will go on the Spring Tour, but the time we spend together will still be invaluable for everyone involved,” Deans says.
“Injuries have been a factor on the Spring Tours we’ve had previously, especially with the addition of the midweek fixtures. I’ve no doubt that the demanding schedule we have on this trip, with seven games in five weeks, will test us again.”
“Not only are the players who attend the training camp but don’t make the final touring squad in line for call ups if we have injuries, their involvement also potentially provides opportunities beyond that if they use the experience to their advantage.”
Deans cited Western Force forward Ben McCalman, who missed selection for last year’s tour after attending the training camp but is now Australia’s incumbent Test No 8, as an example of a player who benefitted from the training camp process.
“While Ben didn’t make the touring squad last year, he clearly gained confidence from the time spent at our training camp. He then took that boost into both his maiden Super Rugby season earlier this year, and then into the Australian Barbarians and Wallaby programmes,” Deans says.
Unlike last year’s pre-Spring Tour training camp, which was concluded with an opposed training session that replicated a trial, there will be no simulated ‘game’ to conclude this time.
“It isn’t needed,” Deans says.
“We had two midweek matches on last year’s Spring Tour and the two-game Australian Barbarians programme earlier this year, as well as Super Rugby, with which to view and assess players.
“Our awareness of the talent available is much greater, as is the players’ knowledge of our systems, as is evidenced by the fact that only five of the guys named today haven’t been with us in some capacity previously.”
While injury remains a factor influencing selection, the Wallabies are at least able to welcome back props Ben Alexander and Sekope Kepu who both missed nearly all of the domestic Test season due to injury.
Kepu was ruled out after being injured against the Brumbies midway through Super Rugby, while Alexander damaged his knee in the Test season opener against Fiji in Canberra.
No members of the Australian Sevens squad, currently in its final preparations for next week’s Commonwealth Games tournament in New Delhi, India, were considered.
Deans says players from that group will come into calculations for the final 36-man touring squad which will be named in Sydney on 14 October.
The Commonwealth Games Sevens will be held on 11-12 October, with the players back in Australia in time to assemble with the Spring Tour squad in Sydney on 20 October if required.
The training squad assembles in Sydney tomorrow morning.
2010 WALLABY SPRING TOUR
Ben Alexander (Eastwood/Brumbies), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs/Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Sydney University/HSBC Waratahs), Kurtley Beale (Randwick/HSBC Waratahs), Richard Brown (Western Force), Luke Burgess (Sydney University/HSBC Waratahs), Nathan Charles (Sydney University/Western Force), Mitch Chapman (Brumbies), Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds), Ben Daley (Queensland Reds), Rod Davies (Queensland Reds), Dave Dennis (Sydney University/HSBC Waratahs), Kane Douglas (Southern Districts/HSBC Waratahs), Huia Edmonds (Eastern Suburbs/Brumbies), Rocky Elsom [c] (Randwick/Brumbies), Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), Will Genia (Queensland Reds), Matt Giteau (Balmain/Brumbies), Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds), Matt Hodgson (Eastern Suburbs/Western Force), Peter Hynes (Queensland Reds), Van Humphries (Queensland Reds), Brackin Karauria-Henry (Southern Districts/HSBC Waratahs), Sekope Kepu (Randwick/HSBC Waratahs), Richard Kingi (Melbourne Rebels), Salesi Ma’afu (West Harbour/Brumbies), Pat McCabe (Warringah/Brumbies), Ben McCalman (Sydney University/Western Force), Drew Mitchell (Balmain/HSBC Waratahs), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Dean Mumm (Sydney University/HSBC Waratahs), James O’Connor (Western Force), Pat O’Connor (Northland NZ/HSBC Waratahs), David Pocock (Western Force), Benn Robinson (Eastwood/HSBC Waratahs), Nathan Sharpe (Western Force), Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds), James Slipper (Queensland Reds), Matt To’omua (Eastern Suburbs/Brumbies)
Players not considered due to injury
Will Chambers (Queensland Reds), Mark Chisholm (Randwick/Brumbies), Stephen Hoiles (Randwick/Brumbies), Rob Horne (Southern Districts/HSBC Waratahs), James Horwill (Queensland Reds), Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds), Stirling Mortlock (Gordon/Melbourne Rebels), Wycliff Palu (Manly/HSBC Waratahs), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Parramatta/NSW Waratahs)