Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has named seven uncapped players in his 34-man squad for their upcoming Rugby Championship campaign.
Rebels duo Jordan Uelese (hooker) and Marika Koroibete (wing), Reds trio Adam Korczyk (flanker), Izack Rodda (lock) and Izaia Perese (utility back) as well as the Western Force pairing of Bill Meakes (centre) and Curtis Rona (wing) are the players who are yet to represent their country at Test level.
Uelese’s inclusion is arguably the biggest surprise, with injuries having a major say in the selection. Waratahs hooker Tolu Latu has played little part in training after a neck injury, with Uelese’s impressive showing in camp putting him right into Test contention.
Uelese is one of five Rebels in the camp, with the Waratahs having nine representatives, Queensland seven and the Brumbies and Force six.
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“If the guy’s in the squad, he’s ready to play,” said Cheika.
“He’s going to be inexperienced for sure but I’ve seen in the work he’s done so far and the stuff he’s done with the 20s as well that he’s eager and he’s ready definitely if he’s given the opportunity to take.
“We understand he’s not going to be perfect if that happens.
“He’s a zero-cap player so we understand what that brings, but at the same time you can see we’re rebuilding, we’ve been doing it for the last year and a bit now, rebuilding a new-looking team and if we choose a player I think he’s got a very big future ahead of him and we want to get him involved as soon as possible.”
Kurtley Beale, likely to be the first-choice number 12, is set for a Wallabies return, though Cheika has kept on all bar one of his squad centres for the first Test.
Both Beale and Samu Kerevi have been working their way through injury, with Cheika keeping his options open in the department.
“He’ll be ready to go at training next week,” Cheika said of Beale.
“The only guy that we may look at bringing over to team training is Jermaine Ainsley, that’s not in the squad, but he’s not too far away from being back to full fitness.
“If he was available for the second game we might consider bringing him over just to treat him but apart from that everyone who’s come in is ready to go.”
Japan-bound Campbell Magnay is the only midfielder omitted from the extended squad, with Force duo Meakes and Rona one step closer to Test debuts.
Cheika has kept veteran lock pair Rob Simmons and Kane Douglas in the mix, with Brumbies captain Sam Carter dropping out of the squad.
Sean McMahon’s return to the Wallabies fold has squeezed out flanker Richard Hardwick, despite the Force youngster’s promising June form.
Cheika has opted for Force tighthead Tetera Faulkner over Queenslanders Taniela Tupou and Sef Faagase in the front row.
Will Genia and Bernard Foley have been appointed the side’s vice-captains, deputising for Michael Hooper.
“Willy, I’ve been fairly happy with him since he’s come back from overseas, he’s got really renewed commitment to excelling here,” added Cheika.
“I think for Bernard Foley, I think it’s starting to drop for him finally that he’s a senior player in this team and he needs to be setting the standards around how he performs and also the accountability he has on his teammates too.
“He’s starting to find his voice a little bit more and I think it’s a nice fit for the captain, so he can work with guys who have got different experiences to him as well.”
Genia has served as Wallabies captain four times and been deputy in the past but has not had a formal role since before the 2015 World Cup.
“I really love this Wallabies team, and love any chance I get to wear the gold jersey but to be named vice-captain really is an honour, ” said Genia.
I want to thank Cheik (Michael Cheika) for putting that trust in me – and I will be doing everything in my power to support Hoops (Michael Hooper) in whatever way possible alongside Bernard.”
Foley has played 45 Tests for the Wallabies but this will be his first official stint as a formal leader.
“It’s a huge personal honour to be vice-captain of this team and I am looking forward to working with all the leaders in this team to ensure the Wallabies elevate to the best we possibly can be,” he said.
“Hoops (Hooper) is a remarkable leader, and I believe with the other leaders in the team we can complement his style and assist him in that responsibility.”