New Wallaby coach Robbie Deans has dropped his first big bombshell when he named his squad for the two-Test Tri-Nations trip to South Africa, axing veteran lock forward Nathan Sharpe.
Sharps and injured scrumhalf Luke Burgess are the two players from Australia’s original Tri-Nations squad of 30 who have missed out on inclusion in the touring party that will depart for South Africa on Friday.
The unexpected axing of Sharpe now places a question mark over his future with the Wallabies and it appears the 30-year-old Sharpe, who started in all three the Wallabies’ Tri-Nations games so far, is carrying the can for a disappointing performance by the forwards – who lost eight line-outs on their throw in – in the 10-39 loss to the All Blacks in Auckland a fortnight ago.
South African born and raised Dan Vickerman is expected to start with James Horwill in the second row for the first Test against the Springboks in Durban on August 23. The second Test is in Johannesburg a week later.
Making the axing of Sharpe even more surprising is that Deans have opted to include injured flank Rocky Elsom (foot ligament strain) in the 18-man touring party.
Deans noted that the injury situation, as it pertained to options in the second row and among the loose forward mix, had played a significant part in the decision to omit the experienced Sharpe.
Burgess, who like Sharpe has featured in all three the Wallabies’ games this season, was ruled out after an MRI scan on Thursday identified a meniscus tear in his knee. The Waratahs scrumhalf sustained the injury during a tackle at training on Wednesday.
“It was an innocuous-looking incident. Unfortunately Luke’s knee blew up afterwards, was worse again this [Thursday] morning, and the scan has then revealed the bad news,” Deans said.
The demise of Burgess, who is expected to be sidelined for a minimum of four weeks, leaves the Australian touring party with two scrumhalves – Sam Cordingley and Brett Sheehan.
Three hookers have been included, while injured stars Elsom and fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper (broken hand) will also be on the flight on Friday – with medical opinion indicating they should be fit for the second Test of the two-game tour.
The break down of the squad is a 16-forward, 12-back split.
Australian squad: Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies, captain), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Reds), Al Baxter (Waratahs), Richard Brown (Western Force), Sam Cordingley (Reds), Ryan Cross (Western Force), Matt Dunning (Waratahs), Rocky Elsom (Waratahs), Adam Freier (Waratahs), Matt Giteau (Western Force), James Horwill (Reds), Peter Hynes (Reds), Hugh McMeniman (Reds), Drew Mitchell (Western Force), Dean Mumm (Waratahs), Stephen Moore (Reds), Wycliff Palu (Waratahs), Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs), Benn Robinson (Waratahs), Brett Sheehan (Waratahs), George Smith (Brumbies), Timana Tahu (Waratahs), Lote Tuqiri (Waratahs), Lachie Turner (Waratahs), Phil Waugh (Waratahs), Dan Vickerman (Waratahs).Tweet