Robbie Deans insists ‘‘the door is not closed’’ on Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale despite the high-profile playmakers being overlooked for a 30-man Wallabies camp to prepare for the blockbuster British and Irish Lions series.
Cooper conceded earlier this week that he’d been overlooked, while Beale was always going to be omitted on Friday after being stood down indefinitely following an alcohol-fuelled altercation with Melbourne Rebels teammate Cooper Vuna in South Africa.
But Deans’ naming of James O’Connor, Berrick Barnes - who was picked despite only 16 minutes for the NSW Waratahs this season - and untried Brumby Christian Leali’ifano highlighted a glaring hole in the Wallabies’ playmaking roles.
Deans, though, noted that the 30-man squad contained several rookies - and considerably more forwards than backs - for merely insurance purposes should the Wallabies be hit with untimely injuries before the Lions arrive.
He said he’d been in contact with Cooper and Beale and advised both that they, and others including Test regulars Sekope Kepu, Drew Mitchell and Nick Phipps, still had time to press for selection.
‘‘Kurtley’s obviously not playing at the moment. He’s sought help, which is great, so he’s going through a counselling process,’’ Deans said.
‘‘He’s got to go through that first and that’s got to run its course and, if and when he becomes available, we’d consider it then.
‘‘He’d return to the Rebels and play so we’d obviously observe with interest.’’
Likewise, Cooper remains in the picture, with Deans insistent that the enigmatic five-eighth was not being further punished for his well-documented criticism of the Wallabies’ so-called ‘‘toxic’’ culture.
‘‘There’s something like eight rounds to go before we gather for the Lions tour,’’ Deans said.‘‘So there’s still a lot of rugby to be played, a lot of water to go under the bridge and a lot of opportunity for everyone to press their claims.’’
Deans has invited seven uncapped players, including former rugby league Test star Israel Folau, to the two-day camp in Sydney.
The Brumbies have been rewarded for the ACT side’s strong start to the Super Rugby season with 11 players named, including six yet to play Test rugby - headed by bolter prop Scott Sio.
Sio only made his Super Rugby starting debut in the past month but appears to have pushed regular Wallabies front-rower Kepu out of the current reckoning.No.8 Fotu Auelua, back-rower Ben Mowen, halfback Nic White, Leali’ifano and fullback Jesse Mogg are the other uncapped Brumbies involved.
Fifty players attended the first in January, while 30 gathered at the second two-day assembly in February, but Sio, Auelua, Mowen and Mogg weren’t even on Deans’ extended radar at the start of the year.
Despite their rocky start to 2013, the Waratahs boast 10 players, while Queensland have seven and the Melbourne Rebels two.
Deans will select his top 25 players for the Lions series on May 19, and those will enter Wallabies camp on June 3.
He said the last camp would allow players to complete pre-tour commercial obligations, as well as take part in specific rugby-related planning.
‘‘It’s a logistics camp,’’ he said. ‘‘Now we’re up to about 56 blokes who have been involved at various points in time and it’s about ensuring that we don’t get blindsided.‘‘
There’s a number of blokes in this camp who haven’t been with us previously and there’s a lot of peripheral activity around the Lions tour because it is such a rare event.’’
Wallabies camp squad: Jesse Mogg (Brumbies), Israel Folau (Waratahs), Digby Ioane (Reds), Joe Tomane (Brumbies), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Ben Tapuai (Reds), Pat McCabe, Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Waratahs), James O'Connor (Rebels), Nic White (Brumbies), Will Genia (Reds), Wycliff Palu (Waratahs), Fotu Auelua (Brumbies), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Liam Gill (Reds), Dave Dennis (Waratahs), Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Rob Simmons, James Horwill (Reds), Kane Douglas, Sitaleki Timani (Waratahs), Dan Palmer (Brumbies), James Slipper (Reds), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Benn Robinson (Waratahs), Scott Sio, Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Tatafu Polota Nau (Waratahs)