Ready to roll ... Dave Dennis with his Waratahs' player of the year award. Photo: Getty Images
DAVE DENNIS' agony at missing out on last year's World Cup squad has at last brought reward with selection to play the All Blacks for the first time in Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup opener at ANZ Stadium.
Dennis' promotion to the starting line-up as the blindside breakaway has been caused by the shoulder injury to Test No.8 Wycliff Palu forcing a back-row reshuffle. However Dennis' inclusion for only his second starting Test and fourth international cap is no surprise considering his exceptional form for the Waratahs this season.
Dennis was easily the Waratahs best player in a dreadful year, with the accolades coming last week when he won the province's best and fairest award. Clearly, the motivation was being overlooked for the Wallabies squad for last year's World Cup.
Dennis yesterday admitted that being a World Cup spectator was excruciating. ''That was tough, because you always think you're a chance and I didn't enjoy being overlooked that much. But at least missing out on the World Cup squad gave me the hunger to want to hang around for another four years,'' Dennis said yesterday.
''It's the ultimate for a player to be involved in a World Cup. For the next one I'll be 28-29 years old, so it's realistic for me.''
For the Waratahs this year, Dennis became one of their reliable workhorses, backing up and performing week in week out.
''Playing all 16 games for the Waratahs was a hard situation. It's not Test level, but it does put a strain on your body. With Rocky [Elsom] and a few other guys unavailable at the start of the year, it was what I had to do. So not having a game the last few weeks has been quite refreshing.
''I'm a proud New South Welshman, born and bred here. And each week I had that drive and the passion to play for my state, although we hadn't been winning games. It was the same with the other boys. But it was still a tough year. Hopefully next year is a bit better.
''Winning the Matt Burke Cup last week was special, but it was still a terrible year. The award was bitter sweet as it is a team sport, and I always think of it that way.''
Dennis understands disappointment after being forced to miss two seasons due to knee problems, before he was plucked from the Sydney University ranks to act as a back-up forward on the 2009 end-of-season Wallabies tour of Europe.
Dennis became a Test player in June when he started against Scotland, and then played off the bench against Wales. Wallabies coach Robbie Deans saw enough during that month to be convinced Dennis was ready to confront the world's No.1 team.
''Dave has been great. He showed during the June Tests he is an international player, and he's earned that right through good, consistent performances,'' Deans said yesterday.
It will also be the first time Dennis' back-row partner, Scott Higginbotham, will start against the All Blacks, and he is delighted to be at No.8. He revealed yesterday that midway during the Reds season, coach Ewen McKenzie asked him if he wanted to go back to breakaway. Higginbotham told the coach he preferred to stay at No.8.
''Things were working for me at No.8. I was getting around the corner a bit more in defence, which I wasn't doing as much when I was playing at No.6. I prefer to be in amongst it,'' Higginbotham said.