Smith axed, Wallabies search for answers - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Smith axed, Wallabies search for answers

By Darren Walton 14/08/2006 07:18:21 PM Comments (0)

George Smith, Australia's Super 14 player of the year and widely considered the second-best openside flanker in world rugby, has been dumped to the bench for the Wallabies' showdown with New Zealand on Saturday.

Smith will make way for 50-Test veteran Phil Waugh when coach John Connolly names his team for a match the Wallabies must win to stay in the hunt for their first Tri-Nations trophy since 2001.

Waugh has been forced to bide his time on the bench in all seven of Australia's Tests this year but will be handed a rare starting appearance after setting up the match-winning, face-saving try in the Wallabies' last-gasp victory over South Africa two weeks ago.

Despite his undoubted skills at the breakdown - his ball pilfering is second only to All Blacks captain Richie McCaw - Smith will find himself relegated to the bench for only the second time in his last 28 Tests as Connolly and fellow selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O'Connor continue their ongoing search for a combination capable of bringing down the mighty All Blacks.

Smith's axing has robbed the 26-year-old - and fans - of a mouth-watering match-up with McCaw at Auckland's Eden Park, where the Wallabies haven't won in 20 years.

While Connolly refused to confirm Waugh would start instead of Smith, he admitted the Wallabies needed to mix things up.

"They're a different team and, against the All Blacks, you play a different way," he said.

"You have different strategies and different tactics for different teams.

"If Waugh gets the nod, he brings a lot of tenacity. They're slightly players, he and George. George is a little bit looser, Phil's a little bit more physical."

Mobile hooker Jeremy Paul will also earn a promotion, replacing set-piece specialist Tai McIsaac in the front row.

Waugh and Paul both trained with the regular Test pack in Canberra on Monday as Smith watched on and McIsaac practised his lineout throwing with the rest of the reserve forwards.

Lock Nathan Sharpe has been spared the chop, with Mark Chisholm narrowly failing to displace Australia's former vice-captain who, after an outstanding Super 14 campaign as skipper of the Western Force, has been below his best during the Tri-Nations tournament.

In the only change to the backline, Clyde Rathbone will replace Mark Gerrard - the Wallabies' leading tryscorer this season with five five-pointers - on the right wing.

Rathbone's superior pace has given the South African-born 25-year-old the edge over Gerrard as the Wallabies look to counter the blistering speed of New Zealand flyers Joe Rokocoko and Rico Gear.

After recovering from a corneal abrasion of the right eye - suffered in a training accident last week - Brett Sheehan has beaten fellow NSW Waratah Josh Holmes to the role as George Gregan's back-up halfback.

With regular reserve halfback Sam Cordingley out with a foot injury, 26-year-old Sheehan will make his Test debut and trained strongly on Monday.

Having already lost the Bledisloe Cup for a fourth straight year with defeats in Christchurch and Brisbane, the Wallabies must snap the All Blacks' unbeaten streak of 20 Tests, dating back to 2003, to keep alive their Tri-Nations hopes.

An upset victory over New Zealand will leave the All Blacks needing to win one of their two remaining Tests against the Springboks - both in South Africa - to retain the Tri-Nations trophy.

Likely Wallabies team: Chris Latham, Lote Tuqiri, Stirling Mortlock, Matt Giteau, Clyde Rathbone, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan (capt), Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman, Rodney Blake, Jeremy Paul, Greg Holmes. Reserves: Mat Rogers, Mark Gerrard, Brett Sheehan, George Smith, Mark Chisholm, Tai McIsaac, Guy Shepherdson.

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