Wallabies coach resists starting Latham - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Wallabies coach resists starting Latham

By Darren Walton 17/07/2007 07:41:04 PM Comments (0)

After 23 days of agonising, Wallabies coach John Connolly has resisted the temptation to rush champion fullback Chris Latham into his starting side for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup and Tri-nations decider against the All Blacks in Auckland.

Connolly came desperately close to naming Latham to make a spectacular return from reconstructive knee surgery as Julian Huxley's replacement for Australia's most important Test since beating New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals four years ago.

Instead, he handed Adam Ashley-Cooper the No.15 jumper in a late, late change of heart.

In fact, as late as lunch time Tuesday, Latham was pencilled in to start before further hearty discussions between Connolly and fellow selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O'Connor and the 2006 John Eales Medallist determined it would be wiser for him to make his comeback off the bench at Eden Park.

"We just thought maybe he was a bit short and we think maybe off the bench is a better way to use him," Connolly said after Wallabies training in Sydney.

"I mean, these guys are fit. They've been in the squad the whole time and Chris has just come in.

"There were a number of issues to look at - his fitness in terms of going the whole match is one. There's no doubt mentally he's got to be comfortable with it, and he's nearly comfortable.

"And obviously playing at this level you're skill factor has to be up to a suitable level and his skill factor is a bit hit-and-miss at the moment.

"He will still have a role to play in the game."

The truth is, Wallabies selectors are less than impressed that Huxley's leg injury - suffered when he was tackled by Brumbies teammate Gene Fairbanks during what Connolly described as an act of "tomfoolery" at a party on Saturday night - had even placed them in a position of having to contemplate using Latham so soon.

He has played just one-and-a-half games for the Gold Coast in Queensland Premier Rugby since undergoing surgery six months ago.

Huxley's hijinx has left the Wallabies short of options.

Connolly and co. were reluctant to use either Mark Gerrard or Drew Mitchell at fullback, despite their previous experience in the position at Super 14 level.

They eventually decided to bank on the versatile and in-form Ashley-Cooper, who is riding a wave of confidence after bursting onto the Test scene this winter.

Although he feels most comfortable at outside centre, Ashley-Cooper played all but one Super 14 game at fullback for the Brumbies in 2006 and shared the custodian role with Huxley this season.

"I feel that I'm ready for the fullback challenge. I feel that I've had a bit of experience there, so it should be alright," Ashley-Cooper said.

Ashley-Cooper's positional switch has earned Mitchell a recall to the starting line-up on Australia's left wing.

In other key selections, Stephen Moore replaces Adam Freier at hooker after missing the Wallabies' last-up win over the Springboks ten days ago with a sternum injury.

The more physical David Lyons has been preferred to Stephen Hoiles as the No.8 despite Hoiles's man-of-the-match performance against South Africa.

And for the fourth Test running, George Smith has been picked ahead of Phil Waugh as the openside flanker.

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