Nathan Sharpe to lead Wallabies in his final assignment

NATHAN Sharpe will lead the Qantas Wallabies in the final assignment of his 11-year Test career after today being named as skipper.

The 30-man party that has been announced for next month's Spring Tour to France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Sharpe, who took over as skipper midway through the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship, leads a side which features just one uncapped player in the NSW Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.

Seven first-year Wallabies have been included in the touring group, which has been bolstered by the returns of flanker David Pocock and hooker Stephen Moore from injury.

Queensland Reds hooker James Hanson, who made his Test debut during last weekend's 18-18 draw against New Zealand, has won the third hooking berth ahead of his injured team-mate Saia Fainga'a, who broke a bone in his hand at training in the lead-up to that match.

While Fainga'a was expected to recover in time to participate on the tour, coach Robbie Deans says that Hanson's recent game-time, which includes both his Test debut and significant game-time at club level for Queensland University helped to win him the nod.

The fact that Moore is returning after an injury break, having not played since the Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland on August 25, also played a part in this decision.

"We had to have absolute certainty around at least two of our hookers," Deans says.

"With Stephen also coming off a period out of the game, we couldn't afford to head away having potential concerns around two of our three hookers."

Although neither Pocock (knee) or Moore (hamstring) have recent match fitness behind them, Deans says both have proved their readiness to tour.

"As well as being proven Test performers with valuable experience in the conditions that we will face on this tour, both also provide a significant leadership element which will add to what is still a relatively young group."

Berrick Barnes returns to duty, after recovering from the lung injury he suffered against South Africa at Pretoria last month.

Sekope Kepu and Sitaleki Timani are also included after the injuries they sustained last weekend in Brisbane proved less significant than was initially feared.

Flanker Scott Higginbotham is a casualty from the Brisbane Test, after suspension rubbed him out for the opening two Tests of the tour against France and England.

With No 8 Wycliff Palu having only recently returned from injury, and Pocock also in that state, Deans says the Wallabies couldn't afford to carry a loose forward who wouldn't be available for the first two weeks of the trip.

Higginbotham will be on stand-by to join the tour, if any injuries crop up, once he is available to play again.

"We've taken the same approach as we have around the hookers," Deans says.

"To have included Scott within the 30 would have created an additional challenge in terms of selection for the opening two matches which would have compromised the group.

"Scott was aware once he was suspended that this was a possibility."

The squad features an 18-forward, 12-back split, with five props selected to cater for the new arrangements regarding front-row substitutes which requires two props to be included on an eight-man Test reserves bench.

Although last weekend's draw with the world champion All Blacks consolidated Australia's hold on the number two ranking on the International Rugby Board standings, the Wallabies will face three of the four sides ranked immediately below them on the trip.

As these matches will all be played before the final seedings are confirmed for December's Rugby World Cup 2015 draw; they have the potential to have a major bearing on the landscape surrounding that tournament.

Australia (86.37 points) currently leads South Africa (84.69), England (83.09), France (83.03) and Wales (82.26).

But matches between sides ranked in the immediate vicinity of each other can have a major bearing, as was evidenced by the two-point swing against Australia following South Africa's 31-8 win over the Wallabies at Pretoria.

Australia's subsequent win over Argentina at Rosario and the draw with the All Blacks returned the Wallabies to the second ranking - a position Australia have held for all but a week of the last three years.

The Wallabies also head to Europe with trophies to defend against France and Wales, while seeking to reclaim a third, against England.

The tour begins in Paris where Australia will be bidding for a record equalling sixth consecutive win against last year's Rugby World Cup finalists, which would tie the Wallabies' best winning run against Les Bleus, achieved between 1993 and 2000.

Australia's last meeting with France on the 2010 Spring Tour saw the Wallabies record a staggering 59-16 win over the then Six Nations champions.

This tour will conclude with the year's fourth meeting with current Six Nations champs Wales, who will be smarting after a 3-0 series defeat in June's closely fought Castrol EDGE Wales Tour, where just 11 points separated the two teams across the three Tests.

Australia has won on each of its last three visits to the Welsh capital and will arrive in Cardiff bidding for an eighth consecutive success against Wales to retain possession of the James Bevan Trophy.

Before that, the Wallabies will call at Twickenham, seeking to snap a two-game losing run against England, which saw the Cook Cup conceded after an 18-35 on the most recent visit to London in 2010.

Australia won back-to-back Tests at Twickenham in 2008 and 2009, and won the opening Test of England's visit Down Under in 2010, before suffering consecutive defeats in the second game of that series, followed by the return match in London.

The tour's third match, which follows the Test in London, sees the Wallabies return to Florence, where Australia recorded a 32-14 win over Italy in 2010 in a game that marked Adam Ashley-Cooper's 50th Test appearance, along with Pat McCabe's first.

Australia has never lost to Italy, with seven of the 14 wins achieved to date being secured on Italian soil.

The Qantas Wallabies squad assembles in Sydney on Wednesday, and will attend the John Eales Medal presentation at the Sydney Convention Centre the following evening before departing for France on Saturday November 3.

Topics:  nathan sharpe

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