Mortlock dumped as Wallabies captain

Stirling Mortlock has been dumped as Australia captain and replaced by Rocky Elsom in a 35-man squad named by coach Robbie Deans on Friday for the Wallabies’ season-ending Grand Slam tour.

Media speculation surrounding Mortlock’s captaincy had grown since the 80-cap veteran sustained a serious knee injury during a Tri-Nations Test against South Africa in August. He was still named in the squad for the tour.

“Stirling has done a good job as Australian skipper, both before I became involved, and over the last 16 months,” Deans said in a statement. “He also understands that this initiative has no meaning in terms of his playing future.

“He has indicated a desire to continue not only to play, but also to lead, and we respect that.”

Mortlock told local media this week he had travelled to Japan while recovering from his injury for talks with local club Kyuden Vortex and would decide on his long-term future before the end of the year.

Elsom signed a two-year deal with the Australian Rugby Union in June after returning from a season in Ireland, where he was lauded for his key role in Leinster’s road to the Heineken Cup.

The 26-year-old had been tipped by Australian media as the frontrunner to lead the Wallabies to the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

Elsom was chosen due to his certainty in terms of selection, and ability to lead from the front, Deans said.

“Rocky has the respect of his teammates because of his approach and the total commitment he brings to the game,” he added.

Flyhalf Berrick Barnes was named as vice-captain of the squad, which includes seven uncapped players, but lock Nathan Sharpe and flanker Phil Waugh were omitted due to injury.

The tour, including matches against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, kicks off in November after the Wallabies’ final Bledisloe Cup Test against the All Blacks in Tokyo on October 31.—Reuters

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