Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has launched the 2014 Castrol EDGE France Tour with the announcement of a strong 32-man Australian squad.
The group will assemble at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast on Sunday 1 June before competing against 2011 Rugby World Cup Finalists France in a three-game Test series for the Trophée des Bicentenaires.
Tickets are on sale for the Castrol EDGE France Tour, which begins at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday 7 June; travels through Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday 14 June; and concludes with a family-friendly Saturday afternoon encounter at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on 21 June.
In total the squad boasts 831 games of Test experience, has an average age of just under 26-years-old, and includes representatives from all five Australian Super Rugby provinces – NSW Waratahs (11), ACT Brumbies (10), Western Force (5), Queensland Reds (4) and Melbourne Rebels (2).
Following a year in which 12 players made their debut for the Qantas Wallabies, McKenzie’s initial squad for 2014 includes just four uncapped players in hooker Nathan Charles and locks Sam Carter, Luke Jones and Will Skelton.
A number of former Test representatives who missed squad selection in 2013 either through injury or non-selection have also earned a re-call, including prop Pek Cowan and backrowers Scott Higginbotham and Matt Hodgson.
For Hodgson and Cowan, their selection presents an opportunity to reignite their international careers after the pair played their last capped Test for Australia in 2011 against South Africa in Sydney.
“It’s pleasing to see the quality and depth we have coming through the Australian Rugby ranks at the moment and I’m confident the squad we’ve chosen can deliver the outcomes we are looking for throughout the June series,” McKenzie said.
“We’re beginning to create a strong and competitive selection environment, which unfortunately means that some quality players will miss out.
“The challenge for this group now is to build on our four most recent wins on the Spring Tour and ensure we continue to develop a winning culture.
“The last time an Australian team won five straight games was in 2008. That’s a six-year hoodoo we need to break and it will be our immediate short-term team goal.
“We’re also looking for players to contribute as much to the cultural piece off the field as they do with their performance on it.
“We don’t hide from the fact that we want to have the best Rugby program possible and to do that you need to have not just the best players but the best people.
“We are in the business of inspiration. Winning is not enough and it’s important that our journey captures the hearts and minds of the Australian public along the way.
“That’s the responsibility of each individual in the squad and we’re really looking forward to the opportunity to positively influence the Rugby landscape in Australia in June and throughout the rest of the year.”
McKenzie has also invited an additional four players to train with the Qantas Wallabies squad in the lead-up to their opening Test – wingers Henry Speight and Tom English, prop Paddy Ryan and lock Cadeyrn Neville.
Speight will not be available for selection during the Castrol EDGE France Tour but will be eligible to represent the Qantas Wallabies from 11 September, 2014.
McKenzie said, “The reality is we have more players performing well than we have space in our squad, so it’s important for the coaching staff that we have an opportunity to learn more about some of the players who haven’t had as much recent exposure to the national program.
“By adding four additional players to the group for the opening week we’ll get to learn more about some guys, while they get to experience a different environment and test themselves at the elite level.”
Players who have not been considered for selection due to injury include flanker David Pocock (knee), flyhalf Quade Cooper (shoulder), centre Kyle Godwin (knee), and outside backs Joe Tomane (cheekbone), Chris Feauai-Sautia (hamstring) and Peter Betham (ankle).
McKenzie will announce his captain for the 2014 Castrol EDGE France Tour when the team assembles at Sanctuary Cove.
The Qantas Wallabies 2014 Castrol EDGE France Tour schedule is:
Saturday 7 June Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane 8:00pm
Saturday 14 June Etihad Stadium, Melbourne 8:00pm
Saturday 21 June Allianz Stadium, Sydney 3:00pm
The Qantas Wallabies 32-man squad for the 2014 Castrol EDGE France Tour is: