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Higginbotham set to step up for Wallabies

Jim Morton 07/08/2011 03:50:19 PM Comments (0)

Back-rower Scott Higginbotham looms as the big winner from another forgettable Wallabies trip to Auckland as Rugby World Cup squad selection looms.

Coach Robbie Deans has indicated he won't be making a raft of changes to the team beaten 30-14 by the All Blacks for their last Test before he names his 30-man World Cup squad on August 18.

The Wallabies will take on a near full-strength South Africa in Durban on Sunday morning (AEST) and Deans will use the clash to develop his strongest team rather than give fringe players a last-chance audition.

Higginbotham has yet to start a Test this year but has made a significant impact in all three off the bench and certainly performed better at No.8 than starter Ben McCalman in the 30-14 loss to New Zealand.

Deans left four of his seven reserves on the bench at Eden Park, but the Queenslander was a stand-out in the final 25 minutes.

"He played well, he's obviously a player we will consider," the coach said. "He hasn't done himself any harm."

Already Deans appears to have 25 players pencilled in for the World Cup, kicking off on September 9.

He flew to South Africa on Sunday morning with a 26-man squad after calling in Queensland No.8 Radike Samo and Brumbies prop Salesi Ma'afu.

Lock Nathan Sharpe also joined the squad as expected, swapping places with fellow Test veteran Dan Vickerman who will get his chance for more football in Sydney club rugby.

Samo's inclusion was a mild surprise to suggest he may be considered as a versatile fourth lock in the squad, who can also cover the back-row, possibly at the expense of Sharpe or Vickerman.

Both Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes were again overlooked with Deans happy to keep a bare 10 backs in his tour party, adding weight to the belief the two playmakers are competing for the last World Cup spot.

Like Giteau and Barnes, centre Rob Horne performed well in club rugby on Saturday and seems close to selection on return from injury.

Sidelined front-rowers Tatafu-Polota-Nau (knee) and James Slipper (ankle) have been tracking well in overcoming serious injuries and are certainties to be named once cleared, meaning non-playing reserve Pek Cowan would miss out.

Prop Benn Robinson's bold bid to return from a knee injury is running out of time while the hopes of injured duo Wycliff Palu and Drew Mitchell depend on medical reports and the faith of Deans.

Wallabies World Cup squad calculations:-

Pencilled in - Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Luke Burgess; Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock, Matt Hodgson, Rocky Elsom (capt), James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Virtually there - Saia Faingaa, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman, Ben McCalman, Lachie Turner.

Waiting for the green light - Wycliff Palu, Rob Horne.

Crossing their fingers - Matt Giteau, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Radike Samo, Sitaleki Timani.

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