By Alan Dymock
PULSES HAVE been set racing south of the equator as Robbie Deans named a preliminary Australia squad to meet for an ‘exercise’ this Sunday, omitting Quade Cooper but naming Waratah Israel Folau in his 30-man group.
The players are set for a ‘logistical assembly’, with a Wallabies statement explaining that the meet-up was “to conclude off-field requirements and team planning ahead of this year’s highly-anticipated British & Irish Lions tour of Australia”.
While this is not a definitive squad for the British and Irish invasion, it is an indicator of where Deans’s head is as they prepare to pull players out of their franchises weeks before the opening Test on 22 June at Suncorp Stadium.
Neglecting to select Cooper has been met with derision from some quarters of Australia, with former Wallaby Greg Martin branding Deans’s decision to continue to punish Cooper for his comments last year – he described the national camp as a “toxic environment” – as an act of conceited self-harm.
“In other words, Robbie Deans wants to sabotage Australian rugby,” the ex-Queensland Reds full-back said. He is not alone, either, with former Wallaby coach John Connolly registering his shock and stating: “If Quade is not in this 30-man squad then it will be difficult for him to be picked in the final 25 (for the British and Irish Lions Tests).”
This may be an act of man-management from Deans, who may seek to clarify with the squad where they stand on reinstating the playmaker, whose desire to play Test rugby will be debated after the assembly. There is still plenty of time for him to play into Deans’s plans and if left out entirely he will be afforded the opportunity to show what the Wallabies will be missing on 8 June, when the Reds face the tourists.
Where Australian fans may get excited, though, is with the inclusion of Brumbies Jesse Mogg (full-back), No 8 Ben Mowen and Fotu Auelua (back-row), and Red Liam Gill (openside).
If this squad is any indicator of the Test 25, leaving out Cooper while Kurtley Beale sorts out his personal issues means that James O’Connor (Rebels) and Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies) will be fighting over the fly-half jersey should Berrick Barnes not recover quick enough, despite neither being regulars in that position for their clubs.
There is also some contention rising from the fact that Folau is taken as a winger alongside Joe Tomane of the Brumbies, while franchise team-mate Henry Speight is left out.
Elsewhere the squad is as you would expect.
The players who will assemble on Sunday afternoon in Sydney: Jesse Mogg (Brumbies), Israel Folau (NSW Waratahs), Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds), Joe Tomane (Brumbies), Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), Ben Tapuai (Queensland Reds), Pat McCabe (Brumbies), Christian Leali’ifano (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs), James O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels), Nic White (Brumbies), Will Genia (Queensland Reds), Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs), Fotu Auelua (Brumbies), Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs), Liam Gill (Queensland Reds), Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs), Scott Higginbotham (Melbourne Rebels), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds), James Horwill (Queensland Reds), Kane Douglas (NSW Waratahs), Sitaleki Timani (NSW Waratahs), Dan Palmer (Brumbies), James Slipper (Queensland Reds), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs), Scott Sio (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs).