Waugh situation 'weird', admits Mortlock - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Waugh situation 'weird', admits Mortlock

21/05/2009 04:33:12 PM Comments (0)

Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock admits it will be "weird" playing against Phil Waugh one week before lining up alongside him the next, with the veteran flanker to be released from the Australian squad to play for the Barbarians in Sydney.

Waugh's release added to the intrigue surrounding a one-less-than-expected 29-man squad announced for the first four Tests of the international season, beginning with the Baa Baas clash at the Sydney Football Stadium on June 6.

It emerged on Thursday the Waratahs skipper had been invited to play for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham on May 30 and in Sydney a week later at a time of much speculation he might not be a part of the Wallabies in 2009.

But the 29-year-old was named in a squad already heavy with openside flanker options just a day after Waratahs No.8 Wycliff Palu was ruled out for four weeks with a broken hand.

"It is a bit weird," Mortlock said of Waugh switching between camps.

"... It is a bit different but the Baa Baas have that prestige and that history behind them and every way you look at it I think it's going to be an unbelievable fixture."

With talk Waugh has fallen in the No.7 pecking order behind both George Smith and David Pocock, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said watching him go head-to-head with his rival Australian flankers would be "a great result".

"Waughy's earned that right," Deans said.

"He's a player who's given fantastic service over a long period of time and the Barbarians were keen to have him involved and we saw no reason not to.

"It gives him some more top end rugby and it's a good reward for him."

Asked if he expected the speculation to fire Waugh up for the SFS match, Mortlock said: "Waughy's a competitor.

"You only have to look at the times where there has been talk about form or what-not and look at how he's performed on the paddock.

"This year he's done extremely well leading the Waratahs again so you want those sort of guys in your squad."

With a 30-man group expected and blindside flanker options thin on the ground, speculation will also mount that Rocky Elsom is set to re-join the Wallabies after he lines up for the Baa Baas with Waugh.

Elsom needs to re-sign with the Australian Rugby Union after a stint with Irish side Leinster to be considered for Wallabies honours and an ARU spokesman made a point of saying "negotiations with Rocky are continuing" at Thursday's announcement.

In another significant development, 18-year-old Western Force back James O'Connor has rushed into favouritism to be the Wallabies' starting fullback after Deans had previously said he would benefit from playing at this year's under-20s World Cup.

"We would not have contemplated retaining him if we weren't contemplating starting him, it's that simple," Deans said.

The squad contains 10 Western Force representatives, including uncapped Matt Hodgson and Pek Cowan, more than any other province despite the Perth side only finishing above the Reds of Australia's four Super 14 sides.

Of the 39 players who represented the Wallabies in 2008, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Hoiles and Brett Sheehan have been omitted, while seven are unavailable due to injury.

Wallabies squad: Forwards - Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, Al Baxter, Pek Cowan, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Peter Kimlin, Dean Mumm, Matt Hodgson, George Smith, David Pocock, Phil Waugh, Richard Brown.

Backs - Josh Valentine, Luke Burgess, Matt Giteau, Berrick Barnes, Quade Cooper, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Timana Tahu, Ryan Cross, Lote Tuqiri, Peter Hynes, Lachie Turner, Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O'Connor.

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