NATHAN SHARPE is remaining with the Wallabies until at least October, but the promotion of Sitaleki Timani to the Test starting XV shows the preparations for the future have already begun.
Although Sharpe was supposed to retire following this Saturday's third Test against Wales, he has told Wallabies coach Robbie Deans he will continue and play in the inaugural Rugby Championship, which also involves New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.
This is some relief for Deans because the Wallabies second-row stocks are relatively shallow, especially with Test captain James Horwill expected to miss the rest of the season as he requires surgery on his ruptured hamstring and Dan Vickerman is unlikely to play again.
There are some promising second rows coming through the ranks, with Hugh Pyle and Caderyn Neville training with the Wallabies squad, but they are still some way off being considered for Test spots.
Therefore Deans wants to broaden the basket, which is why he has chosen Timani ahead of Rob Simmons for this weekend.
''Clearly the day is coming when Nathan will not be available for us, so we have to prepare for that. We want to give Sita some exposure and bring him on,'' Deans said. Simmons has ''had a big year, played a lot of rugby, and so we have to share that load''.
Deans said Sharpe's decision to postpone his retirement was ''good news for the group. You saw how important he is for the team at the death the other night when he played a key role in securing possession.
''It is a big decision for him, because it was a conscious choice of his to communicate he was going to retire,'' Deans said.
''He had made plans beyond the game, so he's had to put them on hold. That's never straight forward. To defer his retirement is a significant commitment from him. I don't think it is an indefinite deferment though.''
Sharpe will not be available for the end-of-year northern hemisphere tour and Deans is also not anticipating that Vickerman will return.
''I haven't spoken to Dan for a couple of weeks,'' he said.
''But I'm sure the moment he is able to play my phone will ring. But I don't think so. My last conversation with Dan revolved around just getting himself right for life going forward.
''I understand his leg is giving him a fair amount of grief from day to day. He might be at that point where he has conceded his playing career is over, but I have not had formal notification of that.''
Despite persistent complaints from the Welsh over how the breakdown had been policed, Deans weaved around the subject yesterday.
''The rules don't change from week to week,'' he said. ''We have the ability to meet referees week to week but nothing changes in between. The key is for players to adapt in the game,'' Deans said.