Larkham a spanner in Wallabies works - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Larkham a spanner in Wallabies works

By Jim Morton 30/05/2007 07:28:27 PM Comments (0)

Rejigged Wallabies plans could be thrown into disarray with Stephen Larkham once again in some doubt for Saturday night's second Test against Wales.

The 95-Test maestro played only a limited part in a training session at Ballymore late on Wednesday after feeling tightness in his troublesome hamstring.

Larkham, who prior to training predicted he would be 100 per cent, will rest on Thursday before being assessed again on Friday when Australia has its captain's run at Suncorp Stadium.

Coach John Connolly felt Larkham should be right to play but has been taking an ultra-cautious approach with his invaluable playmaker.

If the five-eighth is ruled out it may force a second rethink by the Wallabies selectors after they overlooked long-term skipper George Gregan to give Matt Giteau time at halfback beside Larkham.

Connolly had originally earmarked Gregan to start at Suncorp Stadium but Larkham's late scratching before the 29-23 first Test win forced a change.

While Larkham and Giteau know each other's games inside out after lining up at No.10 and 12 for the Brumbies and Wallabies from 2003, they have started together in the halves just twice.

Connolly felt it crucial to give Giteau, Larkham and rookie inside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, who received little ball at Telstra Stadium, time together before winding down experimentation during the upcoming Tri-Nations.

"We could go to the Gregan, Larkham, Giteau situation tomorrow," he said of Australia's old firm 9,10, 12 combination.

"We know want we get and they click in very well.

"In terms of what sits below them, by chance we get to a World Cup game if we lose one or two of them, we have to have some idea what direction we're going to take, who the best person for the job is and who's had experience in the team."

Connolly praised Gregan for his selfless commitment to the World Cup cause after benching him for the second straight week.

Not since 1996 has Gregan been overlooked for two consecutive Test starts but it remains to be seen whether he may get a late starting recall at No.9 if Larkham is ruled out.

The 128-Test half had been told he'd start in one of the first three domestic Tests, leaving him short-odds to play against Fiji in Perth next week if he doesn't start on Saturday night.

Connolly admitted Gregan was disappointed at missing out but has impressed all with his team-first attitude, work ethic and tutelage of novice No.9 Giteau.

"He's worked hard with Matt Giteau and he's done everything he can, playing a big role behind the scenes," Connolly said.

"He's disappointed, he would like to play, but he also understands the situation we've got."

Veteran assistant coach Alec Evans, who first identified Gregan as a 20-year-old, agreed: "He's very positive. He's training as hard as I've ever seen him and he's certainly not going to roll over."

With flanker Phil Waugh making way for George Smith in one of three changes to the starting pack, centre Stirling Mortlock will take over the captaincy.

Premier lock Dan Vickerman, who gave the last pass for Stephen Hoiles to score Saturday's last-gasp match-winning try, and loose-head prop Benn Robinson have also been promoted from the bench.

New Zealand-born, Melbourne-raised, Brisbane-schooled Western Force flyer Digby Ioane has been given a dream debut in front of family and friends four decades after father Natu played for Samoa against NZ Maori.

Backs coach Scott Johnson likened the fast-stepping 21-year-old to British Lions pocket-rockets Shane Williams and Jason Robinson.

"He can beat most people in a phone booth, he has wonderful feet," Johnson said.

"He's a different player. He brings an edge. He brings a point of difference.

"With Digby you will see something unique."

Wallabies: Julian Huxley, Digby Ioane, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Stephen Larkham, Matt Giteau, Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Adam Freier, Matt Dunning, Mark Chisholm, Stephen Hoiles, Phil Waugh, George Gregan, Mark Gerrard.

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