Sidelined Wallabies legend Michael Hooper will return to the rugby cauldron for the first time since pulling out of the Argentina tour in September, citing “mindset” problems, as coach Dave Rennie named the 121-Test champion in his 36-man squad for Australia. The spring tour of Europe starts next week.
Although 123-Test veteran James Slipper will captain the upcoming tour, the return of 30-year-old Hooper, the Wallabies talisman, is a boost for a team struggling for form and confidence in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup 2023 in September.
“Having Michael back in the fold is huge for our team on and off the pitch,” Rennie confirmed. “We will continue to make sure he has the right support around him.”
The team is currently ranked ninth in the world, its lowest ranking since the introduction of the professional era rankings, and faces five Northern Hemisphere nations, including the two top-ranked teams in the world, France and Ireland , on a grueling five-week tour. through Europe.
Rennie has selected five uncapped players in the squad, including Melbourne Rebels prop Sam Talakai and New South Wales pair Ben Donaldson and Mark Navakanitawase named as members of the Wallabies squad for the first time.
Donaldson and Navakanitawase have impressed for the Australia A program in Fiji and Japan, with specialist defender Jock Campbell and Langi Gleeson the other two players who could potentially make their European debuts. Gleeson’s selection continues an impressive rise for the 21-year-old Manly Marlin, who stands 188cm, weighs 107kg and is the fastest man over 40m in the Waratahs’ squad.
Versatile winger Ned Hannigan has been named in his first national squad since 2020 after also impressing in Japan for Australia A, while Western Force front rower Tom Robertson rejoins the group after Waratahs front-row star Angus Bell was severely ruled out for the rest of the international season with a foot injury.
Rennie has selected two overseas players in the Rye Law squad, with La Rochelle’s Will Skelton – a 203cm, 140kg forward – returning to Wallaby gold after appearing in all three games off the bench on last year’s spring tour .
The other overseas player selected is veteran Bernard Foley, who is at No.10 and is making a confident return to the Test arena in the Bledisle Cup series last month. Quaid Cooper, the Wallabies’ other playmaking option, is still recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered in the warm-up before the first Test against England in July.
While Donaldson and Noah Lolesio will battle it out with Foley for a midfield position, Kurtley Beale’s bid for a fourth World Cup is in flux after the 33-year-old was left out of the 36-man squad. The mercurial defender will need a stellar season in Super Rugby with the Waratahs if he is to become the first Indigenous player to reach 100 Test caps.
Millionaire man Taniela Tupov has been declared fit and ready to resume front-row duties, while Brumbies defender Tom Banks returns to the back three after suffering a serious arm fracture against England. He will compete with Jordan Petaya, Andrew Kelloway and Campbell for the all-important quarterback position.
Australia will begin their campaign with a Test against Scotland in Edinburgh on October 30 before a Test against France in Paris on November 6, their first since 2016. They then play Italy in Florence on November 13 before the Test against Ireland in Dublin in November. 20 and Wales in Cardiff on November 27 to complete the 2022 season. The squad assembles in Sydney on Tuesday and flies out the following day.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie is under increasing pressure as his winning percentage dips below 38%, the lowest of any Australian coach in the professional era. He stays tuned. “Over the next five matches we have a huge opportunity to test ourselves against some of the best teams in the world and put together some performances that would make our fans back home in Australia proud.”
“It’s been great to continue to get game time for our players through the Australia A program and some of these guys have been rewarded for their form with squad selection.”
Australian lineup: Alan Ala’alatoa, Tom Banks, Jock Campbell, Ben Donaldson, Folau Fainga’a, Lalakai Foketi, Bernard Foley, Matt Gibbon, Nick Frost, Langy Gleeson, Jake Gordon, Ned Hannigan, Rhys Hodge, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Len Ikitau, Andrew Kelloway, Noah Lolesio, Lachlan Lonergan, Tate McDermott, Fraser McReath, Mark Navakanitawase, Kadairne Neville, Hunter Paisami, Jordan Petaya, Matt Phillip, Dave Parecki, Tom Robertson, Pete Samu, Will Skelton, James Sleeper, Sam Talakai, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Nick White, Tom Wright.