Sharpe to lead Wallabies on European tour
SYDNEY — Veteran lock Nathan Sharpe will lead Australia in his final series of an 11-year career after being announced as captain of the 30-man squad for the four-test tour of France, Italy and Britain on Thursday.
Sharpe, who became skipper midway through the inaugural Rugby Championship due to injuries to other players, leads a side featuring just one uncapped player in New South Wales Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.
Two weeks ago, the Australian Rugby Union said Sharpe had again postponed his retirement and confirmed he was available for Australia’s European tour.
The 34-year-old Sharpe, who became Australia’s most-capped international forward when he led the Wallabies to an Oct. 6 win over Argentina in his 111th test, planned to retire last weekend following an 18-18 draw with New Zealand.
Seven first-year Wallabies have been included for the European tour, including the return of flanker and former captain David Pocock.
In a further boost for the Wallabies, coach Robbie Deans also brought back Stephen Moore and Berrick Barnes from injury while winger Digby Ioane has overcome a knee problem to take his place in the squad.
Scott Higginbotham was left out after the flanker was suspended for two matches following his scuffle with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the Bledisloe Cup draw in Brisbane.
Higginbotham was banned for kneeing and headbutting McCaw. The suspension meant Higginbotham would have to miss the first two tests, against France and England, and Radike Samo has taken his place in the squad.
With No.8 Wycliff Palu having only recently come back from injury, and Pocock in the same position, Deans said the Wallabies couldn’t carry a loose forward who was unavailable for the first two tests.
“To have included Scott within the 30 would have created an additional challenge in terms of selection for the opening two matches which would have compromised the group,” Deans said in an ARU statement. “Scott was aware once he was suspended that this was a possibility.”
Higginbotham will be on stand-by to join the tour should there be are any injuries.
The squad features an 18-forward, 12-back split, with five props selected to cater for the new arrangements regarding front-row substitutes which requires two props to be included on an eight-man test reserves bench.
Deans is confident both Pocock and Moore (hamstring) will be fit from the outset of the tour.
“As well as being proven test performers with valuable experience in the conditions that we will face on this tour, both also provide a significant leadership element which will add to what is still a relatively young group,” Deans said.
Barnes returns after recovering from a lung injury suffered against South Africa at Pretoria last month, while Sekope Kepu and Sitaleki Timani are also included after the injuries they sustained against the All Blacks proved less significant than initially feared.
Queensland hooker James Hanson, who made his test debut during the draw with New Zealand, took the third hooking berth ahead of his injured Queensland teammate Saia Faingaa, who broke a bone in his hand at training in the lead-up to that match.
The Wallabies play last year’s Rugby World Cup finalists France in Paris on Nov. 10, England at London’s Twickenham on Nov. 17, Italy in Florence on Nov. 24 and Wales in Cardiff on Dec. 1.