Radike Samo - Oldest member of the Wallaby squad

A strong Qantas Wallabies touring party, collectively boasting 634 Test appearances, has been announced  for the short tour of the United Kingdom starting later this month.

The 26-man playing group is composed, almost in its entirety, of players who recently competed in the seventh Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, where Australia beat Wales 21-18 to win the Bronze Final.

One change is in the front row where Western Force prop Pekahou Cowan returns.

Cowan was a member of the victorious Australian squad for the Castrol Edge Tri Nations Series, playing the most recent of his four Tests off the bench during the 39-20 win over South Africa at Sydney in July. He has taken the place of the injured Sekope Kepu.

Kepu is being given additional time to recover from the injury he sustained when accidentally poked in the eye by a team-mate during the Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Australia finished its Rugby World Cup campaign on a high note by beating Wales, which added to the earlier wins achieved over Italy, the United States of America, Russia and South Africa.

This performance enabled the 2011 Tri Nations champions to retain second position on the latest International Rugby Board rankings, rated behind only the Rugby World Cup winners, New Zealand.

The strength of the playing combination named for this tour is reinforced by the fact that the injured pair of fullback Kurtley Beale and flyhalf Quade Cooper are the only players from the starting XV that beat Wales, not to be making this trip.

It might only be a three week assembly, with just two games, but Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is anticipating a difficult tour, and says the squad has been selected accordingly with Australia’s best players included. The squad averages in excess of 24 previous appearances per man when the total number of Tests played is calculated across the whole playing group.

“While this is a relatively brief visit by current standards, both fixtures promise to be exceedingly demanding,” Deans says.

“We’ve just seen at the Rugby World Cup how much and how quickly playing resources can be taxed.”

With the Barbarians to be prepared by All Black coaches Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, and containing a star-studded list including five of the victorious World Cup New Zealanders, Deans says Australia’s visit to Twickenham has all of the ingredients posed by the toughest of Test matches.

The Baabaas have beaten New Zealand and South Africa in the last two years and will be determined to complete a hat-trick against the SANZAR nations, while avenging the 11-18 defeat suffered against a young Wallabies outfit at Wembley Stadium during the two teams’ last meeting in London four seasons ago.

The tour concludes seven days later in Cardiff, with the Wallabies’ 14th and final outing of the year, against Wales for the James Bevan Trophy.

Australia has won on its last two visits to Cardiff, currently holds the trophy, and beat Wales for the Bronze Medal at the World Cup, which will all only add to the home side’s expectation and motivation heading into the Test according to Deans.

“Wales were arguably the most improved side at the Rugby World Cup, and their expectations will have risen on the back of that performance,” Deans says.

“Warren [Wales coach Warren Gatland] has publicly stated their ambition to sit alongside the top ranked nations by beating them on a regular basis, and they will see this Test as an excellent opportunity to start that process, building on what they achieved in New Zealand.”

More than 50,000 fans attended the Millennium Stadium just to watch Wales’ semi-final defeat by France at the World Cup on the big television screens, and a passionate atmosphere awaits the Wallabies in front of what is sure to be a full house for Wales’ World Cup homecoming.

“This is the only Test match Wales will play for the autumn and you can guarantee that they will throw absolutely everything at it,” Deans says.

As well as Australia’s front-line of players, the squad includes three of the next generation of internationals: the Queensland Reds pair of centre Ben Tapuai and fullback Ben Lucas, and the NSW Waratahs loose forward Dave Dennis.

Although he didn’t feature in the Test side, Dennis was a member of the initial Wallabies squad of 40 named for the domestic Test season this year, winning his call up after an impressive end to Super Rugby with the Waratahs. The 25-year-old subsequently played for the Australian Barbarians against Canada during that assembly.

Dennis is now specialising as a loose forward, although he can double as a lock, as was evidenced during his inclusion on the 2009 Spring Tour where he appeared in the second row for the wins over Gloucester and the Cardiff Blues in the midweek tour matches.

Tapuai, an Australian Under-20 representative in 2008, announced his arrival onto the big stage with some hard hitting performances in the midfield during the Queensland Reds’ run to an inaugural Super Rugby title this year.

The 22-year-old, who had featured just four times for the Reds prior to 2011, subsequently earned a call up for the Australian Barbarians, performing strongly and scoring a try playing off the bench during the Baabaas’ 38-14 win over the Rugby World Cup-bound Canadians during the tournament warm up match at Skilled Park on the Gold Coast.

Lucas was unable to be considered for that fixture due to injury but had been on the selectors’ radar for some time, enhancing his claims with some sound performances from the back for the Reds during Super Rugby.

Now four seasons into his Reds career, the 23-year-old brings versatility to the squad, offering an option at halfback, flyhalf and fullback, as well as being a capable goal-kicker.

Deans says the new trio all warranted selection based on their form this year, and would bring freshness and enthusiasm to the touring group.

“It’s a great opportunity for the three of them to take the next step in their careers,” Deans says.

The World Cup squad members not able to be considered for the tour were fullback Kurtley Beale (hamstring), winger Drew Mitchell (hamstring), inside centre Pat McCabe (shoulder), flyhalf Quade Cooper (knee), No 8 Wycliff Palu (hamstring), flanker Rocky Elsom (hamstring), lock Dan Vickerman (shoulder), Kepu (eye) and halfback Luke Burgess who has left Australia to continue his career with leading French club Toulouse.

Winger Lachie Turner and flanker Matt Hodgson, who both joined the Wallabies in New Zealand as the replacements for Mitchell and Palu respectively, have been retained in the touring group.

With room for just two hookers in the travelling party, Queensland Reds rake Saia Fainga’a, who was Australia’s third hooker at the Rugby World Cup, has missed out.

The Wallabies will assemble at Coogee in Sydney tomorrow week before departing for the tour on Saturday 19 November.

The Qantas Wallabies Spring Tour Squad is:

Player                          Position           State                            Age                  Appearances

Ben Alexander Prop Brumbies 26 35
Adam Ashley-Cooper Fullback-Wing-Outside Centre NSW Waratahs 27 63
Berrick Barnes Flyhalf/Inside Centre NSW Waratahs 25 36
Pekahou Cowan Prop Western Force 25 4
Dave Dennis Loose Forward NSW Waratahs 25 Uncapped
Anthony Faingaa Inside Centre Queensland Reds 24 12
Will Genia Halfback Queensland Reds 23 33
Scott Higginbotham Loose forward Queensland Reds 25 10
Matt Hodgson Loose forward Western Force 30 6
Rob Horne Centre NSW Waratahs 23 9
James Horwill (captain) Lock Queensland Reds 26 34
Digby Ioane Wing Queensland Reds 26 20
Ben Lucas Fullback/Halfback Queensland Reds 23 Uncapped
Salesi Ma’afu Prop Western Force 28 13
Ben McCalman Lock/Loose Forward Western Force 23 20
Stephen Moore Hooker Brumbies 28 65
James O’Connor Fullback Melbourne Rebels 21 36
Nick Phipps Halfback Melbourne Rebels 22 3
David Pocock Flanker Western Force 23 39
Tatafu Polota-Nau Hooker NSW Waratahs 26 31
Radike Samo No 8 Queensland Reds 35 15
Nathan Sharpe Lock Western Force 33 100
Rob Simmons Lock Queensland Reds 22 15
James Slipper Prop Queensland Reds 22 21
Ben Tapuai Centre Queensland Reds 22 Uncapped
Lachie Turner Wing/Fullback NSW Waratahs 24 14

Tour Schedule/Key Dates

Saturday 26 November: Qantas Wallabies v Barbarians, Twickenham Stadium, London, 2.35pm.

Saturday 3 December: Qantas Wallabies v Wales, James Bevan Trophy, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 2.30pm.