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Elsom to lead Wallabies on spring tour

09/10/2009 06:12:51 PM Comments (0)

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was hopeful dumped captain Stirling Mortlock would still "go the distance" to the 2011 Rugby World Cup despite losing out to a new leadership duo of Rocky Elsom and Berrick Barnes for the coming spring tour.

Flanker Elsom was named captain and inside back Barnes his deputy of the 35-man squad which contains seven uncapped players - but no Phil Waugh or Al Baxter.

The liberal dose of new blood includes a trio of 20-year-old backs in five-eighth Kurtley Beale, his Waratahs teammate, centre Rob Horne, and Queensland halfback Richard Kingi.

The other rookies are forwards, the Brumbies duo of prop Salesi Ma'afu and flanker Mitchell Chapman, Western Force flanker Matt Hodgson and NSW lock Dave Dennis.

The Wallabies face a tough seven-match schedule highlighted by a Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand in Tokyo on October 31 and a grand slam tour of the home unions against England (November 7), Ireland (November 15), Scotland (November 21) and Wales (November 28).

Deans said the five Tests apart, the tour also had a developmental side with mid-week games against English side Gloucester (November 3) and a provisional hit-out against Cardiff Blues to be confirmed.

Elsom's appointment as captain completes a remarkable return to the Wallabies fold for the dynamic 26-year-old back-rower.

He missed last year's Test program due to a stint with Irish team Leinster before agreeing to a new contract with Australia, only for a knee injury to rule him out of the Wallabies' first five Tests of the year.

"I'm ecstatic for the opportunity," Elsom said.

"Deansy was pretty straight forward and he just asked me whether I thought I'd be up to it and whether I was interested and I think that I was at the time, so it was easy for me."

Deans said it was no secret he preferred to have a forward leader and it had been difficult for outside centre Mortlock to communicate with his teammates and referee from that position.

Mortlock, who missed most of the Tri-Nations tournament through injury, "wasn't excited" but hardly surprised by his demotion, according to Deans.

"He was actually very good," Deans said.

"He had anticipated it and he suggested that he was going to ask that question of me anyway, even if I hadn't have raised it."

Mortlock, 32, has yet to commit to the Wallabies beyond next year, but Deans said he was hopeful the 80-Test backline stalwart would back up for the World Cup the following year.

"Stirling and I have had a number of conversations over the last few weeks and, at this point, the dialogue has been really encouraging," Deans said.

"I believe he can go the distance. We're hopeful that he believes that, but ultimately that will be his call."

Deans said Mortlock had indicated he would reconsider his future at the end of the tour.

Veteran prop Al Baxter was omitted from the squad, while there was also no place for Brumbies captain and No.8 Stephen Hoiles.

Flanker Phil Waugh was not considered due to injury.

The Wallabies squad named on Friday for their five-Test tour of Japan, the UK and Ireland:

Backs - James O'Connor, Lachie Turner, Drew Mitchell, Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Rob Horne, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock, Ryan Cross, Berrick Barnes (vice-capt), Kurtley Beale, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau, Will Genia, Luke Burgess, Richard Kingi.

Forwards - Richard Brown, Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, George Smith, Rocky Elsom (capt), Matt Hodgson, David Dennis, Mitchell Chapman, Dean Mumm, Mark Chisholm, James Horwill, Benn Robinson, Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu, Salesi Ma'afu, Matt Dunning, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau.

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