Australia handed Rocky Elsom a daunting comeback assignment on Tuesday, calling up the star flanker for this weekend’s crunch Tri-Nations clash against the All Blacks.
Selectors also gave teenage sensation James O’Connor his first start against New Zealand as the Wallabies fight to keep their Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup hopes alive at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
George Smith will lead the Wallabies with regular skipper Stirling Mortlock undergoing surgery after injuring his knee in Australia’s 29-17 loss to South Africa on August 8.
Elsom, a 40-Test veteran, will make his first appearance for the Wallabies since last year’s Tri-Nations after temporarily standing down from international duties for a European Cup-winning stint with Ireland’s Leinster.
He has been frustrated by a bruised knee since returning to Australia and coach Robbie Deans admitted the 26-year-old faced a tough task making his comeback against the All Blacks.
”We are satisfied that he is good to go,” Deans said. ”It is a big ask of him to make his comeback in a Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations Test, but that’s the reality of our schedule and is the sort of challenge he thrives on.”
The Wallabies are anchored to the bottom of the Tri-Nations table after losing to both New Zealand and front-runners South Africa.
But Deans denied that including 19-year-old O’Connor at fullback was a risk, saying he had impressed coming off the bench against South Africa.
”He showed in Cape Town that he was quite capable of handling himself at this level,” he said.
Adam Ashley-Cooper was shifted from fullback to centre to make room for O’Connor, while Wycliff Palu was dropped as Deans rearranged the scrum to accommodate Elsom.
Deans said the Wallabies had to ”raise the bar” for their first home Test of the Tri-Nations campaign.
”We’ve come up short twice now, and we need to work harder and be more precise in what we do, both collectively and as individuals,” he said.
”Obviously discipline has been an area of concern.”
James O’Connor, Lachie Turner, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess, Richard Brown, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson; Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Dean Mumm, David Pocock, Will Genia, Ryan Cross, Peter Hynes.