Cooper skids into Wallabies contention
Returning to the Wallabies squad after injuring his knee in last year's World Cup ... Cooper. Photo: Getty Images
QUADE COOPER was fast-tracked into the Wallabies' train-on squad last night because of concerns that Kurtley Beale, the first choice Test five-eighth, might not be able to play against Scotland in Newcastle in June 5.
And, as revealed in The Sun-Herald, David Pocock will captain the team for their first international of the season, with Will Genia expected to be his deputy.
Even before Test skipper James Horwill injured his hamstring during Saturday night's Reds-Brumbies match, the Wallabies selectors had planned to rest him for Newcastle, instead scheduling his return for the following Saturday in Brisbane against Six Nations champions Wales.
Out ... James Horwill hobbles into camp yesterday. Photo: Mick Tsikas
The Australian Rugby Union has approved Pocock taking over as skipper, a role he was given for the match against the Barbarians at Twickenham last November.
But there is now uncertainty when Horwill, who is scheduled to have scans in Sydney today, will return. The seriousness of the injury is shown by the selectors opting against including him last night in the large 39-man squad.
The most likely scenario is that Horwill, who arrived at the Wallabies camp at Coogee last night to be assessed, will miss all four June internationals but be back for the Reds' final three Super Rugby round matches in
late June-July. Horwill's place in the Test front row is expected to be taken by veteran 34-year-old Nathan Sharpe, who is in line for his 102nd Test cap.
Beale is another on the doubtful list after being an early casualty in the Rebels' 66-24 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, where he aggravated a long-standing shoulder complaint. Beale was scheduled to be the Test No.10 against Scotland, due to the unavailability of James O'Connor.
Cooper was also expected to be held back until the Rugby Championship later in the year when the Wallabies play New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, as he had only been involved in two games this season after seven months out recovering from a knee reconstruction.
After his erratic World Cup performances last season, there was consideration at ARU level to bringing back Cooper slowly, but after playing 80 minutes against the Brumbies on Saturday night and half a game the previous week, the Test selectors believe he is ready to fill the void against Scotland. The other option at No.10 is the Waratahs' Berrick Barnes, who after several erratic efforts had a much improved performance against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein at the weekend.
As expected, it is a training squad full of new names, including 15 players who have yet to play for the Wallabies.
The biggest name to miss out is former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom, but an injury-marred season gave the selectors no choice but to overlook him.
The unluckiest is Reds utility Ben Lucas, who was going to be picked but injury concerns make it uncertain when he will be able to train.
The bolter is Rebels second-rower Cadeyrn Neville, who has played only a few Super Rugby games. For many years, Neville competed in international youth rowing events, and to improve his aerobic strength in 2009 he tried out with the Manly club, starting on the bench in fourth grade. The next season he was elevated to first grade where he was sighted by the Rebels. Beside him will be his Rebels second-row partner Hugh Pyle, another newcomer.
Brumby Michael Hooper will be Pocock's openside breakaway back-up, with Liam Gill, his closest rival, instead captaining the under-20s at the world championships.
There is a strong Waratahs representation, with 11 players who return from South Africa being involved - the most unexpected being promising utility back Bernard Foley and second-rower Kane Douglas. Alongside them are Adam Ashley-Cooper, Barnes, Dave Dennis, Rob Horne, Sekope Kepu, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson and Sitaleki Timani.
The training squad will be culled to about 30 for the Test series against Wales.