Will Genia is set to become the 78th Australian Test captain after being appointed as leader of the Wallabies team named today to face the United States at the Rugby World Cup in Wellington on Friday night.
The 23-year-old Queensland halfback, who made his Test debut in New Zealand three seasons ago, has been handed the reins for what will be Australia’s 528th official Test match, standing in for squad skipper James Horwill. Horwill is being allowed to by-pass the match.
“It’s a huge honour, a big responsibility and an occasion that I’m really looking forward to,” Genia says.
“We’ve got a big job ahead of us. The United States showed against Ireland that they are a totally committed opponent, and our own performance against Ireland, which was not up to the high standards we set for ourselves, will only have offered the Americans further encouragement.”
Genia is the 13th player to lead Australia, in what will be the country’s 36th Rugby World Cup match since the four-yearly tournament commenced in 1987.
Seven of those men are Queenslanders, with Genia following on from John Eales (five matches as captain), Andrew Slack (five), Michael Lynagh (four), current Reds skipper Horwill (two), Jason Little (one) and current QRU chairman Rod McCall (one).
While Horwill was available for selection, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the big lock’s work-load is the primary reason behind the decision to allow him to by-pass the match.
“James played every match of the Super Rugby season this year and has missed just one Test [of the seven] played by the Wallabies,” Deans says.
“That schedule has taken its toll. He’s had a recurring niggle with his shoulder over the last month. While an MRI earlier in the week cleared him of any major damage, it’s obvious that a break wouldn’t hurt so we have taken that option.”
Flanker David Pocock has also been allowed to rest up for another week. The discomfort in his lower back, which saw him forced out of the Irish game, has cleared significantly, with Deans saying the Western Force openside was expected to be “good to go” for next week’s final World Cup Pool match against Russia at Nelson.
Nelson is now also the target for winger James O’Connor, who was yesterday diagnosed with a minor hamstring strain.
“It’s more of an annoyance than anything but hamstrings are not something that you mess around with,” Deans says.
“James had a scan yesterday which revealed a strain at the lowest end of the scale. By missing this week to recuperate, we expect him to be available for the match against Russia.”
In the absence of O’Connor, flyhalf Quade Cooper returns as Australia’s lead-off goal-kicker.
Cooper is one of nine players from the starting line-up in last week’s 6-15 loss to Ireland at Auckland, among the run on combination this time.
The changes in the backs see Drew Mitchell installed on the wing in the place of O’Connor, while Rob Horne makes his return to Test rugby at inside centre for Pat McCabe, having last appeared for the Wallabies in 2010 when he played the first six Tests of that season before an elbow injury curtailed his progress.
Horne did feature for the Australian Barbarians during last month’s 38-14 win over Canada on the Gold Coast.
In the pack, flankers Ben McCalman and Rocky Elsom, hooker Tatafu Polota Nau and tighthead prop Ben Alexander are the players to back up from starting against Ireland, with No 8 Wycliff Palu joining McCalman and Elsom in the back row after being used from the bench in Auckland.
Locks Nathan Sharpe and Rob Simmons gain their third Test starts of the season, while James Slipper starts for the first time this year, being named at loosehead prop, after coming off the bench to play tighthead in the previous two tournament matches.
Four of the players from last weekend’s starting line-up: inside centre Pat McCabe, No 8 Radike Samo, lock Dan Vickerman and prop Sekope Kepu, are on the bench this time, being joined by the now fully fit hooker Stephen Moore, halfback Luke Burgess and the versatile playmaker Berrick Barnes.
Moore, who had the misfortune to have to withdraw from last weekend’s Test due to a stomach upset after the side had arrived at Eden Park, will oppose in United States halfback Tim Usasz, a close friend and former club-mate from Brisbane.
Usasz will act as groomsman at Moore’s wedding in South Africa at the end of this year.
Deans says the changes represent the best selection options for this assignment.
“It’s our second six day turnaround in a row so we’re looking to freshen things up a bit,” he says.
The changes in no way represent an under-estimation of Friday night’s opposition.
“It’s exactly the opposite. We are according the USA full respect by opting for the changes we have made,” Deans says, “in order to have a totally fresh and focused team.”
“The responsibility at the Rugby World Cup was always going to fall on the whole group, both in preparation and on match day, and that’s what is happening here. We trust all of our players which is why we are prepared to make the changes that we have for such an important match.”
Hooker Saia Fainga’a, originally pencilled in for the bench, was ruled out this morning due to a bout of flu while blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham, who was originally scheduled to play, was withdrawn after jarring his back at today’s training session.
1. James Slipper
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau
3. Ben Alexander
4. Rob Simmons
5. Nathan Sharpe
6. Rocky Elsom
7. Ben McCalman
8. Wycliff Palu
9. Will Genia (c)
10. Quade Cooper
11. Drew Mitchell
12. Robert Horne
13. Anthony Faingaa
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper
15. Kurtley Beale
16. Stephen Moore
17. Sekope Kepu
18. Dan Vickerman
19. Radike Samo
20. Luke Burgess
21. Berrick Barnes
22. Pat McCabe