Gregan still the Wallabies captain - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Gregan still the Wallabies captain

By Paul Mulvey 29/05/2006 06:27:22 PM Comments (0)

John Connolly has unveiled a work in progress by naming nine new faces in the Wallaby squad for 2006, including George Gregan as captain.

Connolly's 33-man squad offered the new Australian rugby coach plenty of versatility as he decides how to shape his first Test team to face England on June 11.

With his task to rebuild the shattered Wallabies he inherited from sacked coach Eddie Jones, Connolly admitted the midfield, backrow and front row were areas still under construction before the Test team is named early next week.

One area of no doubt is halfback, where Gregan, who endured savage criticism last year, responded with a positive Super 14 season for the ACT and hung onto the captaincy which appeared to be slipping from his grip.

While the 33-year-old is now on target to become the most capped rugby player in history and Australia's longest serving captain, nine members of the squad are eyeing their first cap.

ACT's Gene Fairbanks and Guy Shepherdson, NSW trio Sam Norton-Knight, Wycliff Palu and Benn Robinson, Queensland's Rodney Blake and Josh Valentine and Western Force pair Tai McIsaac and Cameron Shepherd were all named in their first Wallaby squad.

Valentine won selection after being excluded from the original 44-man train-on squad last week.

He will be vying for the reserve halfback position with Sam Cordingley who returns to the Wallaby fold for the first time since 2000.

Western Force centre Scott Staniforth also made the cut and is back in Wallaby colours after a four year absence, although Connolly views him as a winger.

Connolly said Ben Tune's omission narrowed his options for outside centre where Mortlock was expected to play unless Matt Giteau's knee injury keeps him out.

Giteau was not named in the squad on Monday but was expected to join the camp in Coffs Harbour later this week and was still a chance of playing at inside centre in the first Test.

His fitness will go a long way to helping Connolly sort out his backline jigsaw.

Gregan and Stephen Larkham are certainties in the halves as is Chris Latham at fullback. Lote Tuqiri will be one wing, although he could move to outside centre if Mortlock has to move into No.12.

Connolly said Fairbanks or Mat Rogers were inside centre options while Tuqiri and Clyde Rathbone could step in.

"We're still searching for those midfield options behind Giteau and Mortlock, whether that's Fairbanks or Rogers, or Mortlock coming in and Tuqiri or Rathbone in or, down the track, Tune coming in," Connolly said.

"Number 12, loosehead, backrow is an ongoing process at the moment.

"In the backrow we have a plan A and plan B.

"Options in the frontrow are still evolving, we're still not sure. Loosehead is very open at the moment, tighthead we're still deciding. Hooker, we've got a pretty good handle in which way we might go there."

In the backrow, Connolly said he could opt for big flankers Daniel Heenan and Rocky Elsom with George Smith at No.8, or go for Scott Fava at the back of the scrum with Smith or Phil Waugh on the openside and a big body on the blindside, where Mark Chisholm was also an option.

With props Bill Young and Matt Dunning dropped, Blake, Robinson, Shepherdson, Greg Holmes and Al Baxter are all in the mix for the front row while Adam Freier seems to have the edge on McIsaac and Jeremy Paul at hooker.

Whatever selection he comes up with, Connolly said he was not just thinking about England, but wanted to build a team to also take on New Zealand and South Africa in the Tri Nations.

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