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Gregan left as a mere mortal

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George Gregan will not captain Australia through the June Tests and Tri-Nations as he prepares to sign off from world rugby after the Rugby World Cup.

Australia coach John Connolly has handed an unprecendented co-captaincy role to flanker Phil Waugh and centre Stirling Mortlock instead, raising questions over whether Gregan is still first choice in the Australia ranks.

Connolly named a 30-man squad for the upcoming three-month international season, including four new caps: Reds lock James Horwill, Brumbies utility Julian Huxley, Western Force flyer Digby Ioane and Waratahs back Sam Norton-Knight.

Gregan, 34, and Stephen Larkham, who turns 33 in nine days, are the two most senior members of the squad with 222 Test caps between them.

Wallabies Coach John Connolly said that the two departing veterans were deserving of a hero’s reception as they make their way through Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth for their final matches across the country.

“There’s no doubt that we are seeing the end of two outstanding careers and rugby supporters and sporting fans around the country will rally to pay tribute to two of the game’s greatest ever players,” said Connolly.

“A series win over Wales and a Tri-Nations victory would provide a fitting farewell for George and Stephen as they play their final season in Australia before embarking on the World Cup,” he said.

Both Mortlock, who turned 30 on the day the squad was announced, and Waugh made their captaincy debut for the Wallabies last year, with Mortlock leading the team on four occasions and Waugh running the team out against Wales in Cardiff on the November Tour.

The Wallabies will play two matches against Wales and one against Fiji before renewing their Tri-Nations rivalry with New Zealand and South Africa.

The youthful squad includes 13 players under the age of 25, while 50 per cent of the squad has played 10 or fewer Tests.

Connolly maintained that a successful domestic season was a priority for his team.

“Everything we do between now and September is geared towards our over-arching goal to win the World Cup,” said Connolly.

“But first we have a tough domestic season ahead of us and we are very much focused on a successful campaign. The Tri Nations is of vital importance and we are looking to get the edge on Wales ahead of our meeting at the World Cup in September,” he said.

Mortlock revelaed to Fox Sports how he had doubted he would ever be considered for leadership again after being caught out beyond team curfew time in Rome last November.

“I basically let myself down and let my team down,” Mortlock said.

“There might have been a chance I didn’t get selected (as captain) again, so I’m thankful I’ve been given this opportunity.

“It’s up to me to make sure that I learnt from that experience and that’s my take on that, to make sure that it’s pretty obvious that I have learnt from that.

“On the tour I learnt a hell of a lot about myself as a leader and things that maybe I needed to differently or better.”

Meanwhile, Gregan himself remained tight-lipped over the decision, speaking only about the team as a whole.

“It’s a bit of history isn’t it?” he said.

“It’s great for both Phil and Stirling to increase the leadership right throughout the group, which is something John (Connolly) spoke about and the team has identified as an area we really need to strengthen.

“You need probably half a dozen good leaders in your group.”

Australia squad:

Forwards: Alistair Baxter, Mark Chisholm, Matt Dunning, Rocky Elsom, Adam Freier, Stephen Hoiles, James Horwill, David Lyons, Hugh McMeniman, Stephen Moore, Wycliff Palu, Benn Robinson, Guy Shepherdson, George Smith, Nathan Sharpe, Dan Vickerman, Phil Waugh (c).

Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Mark Gerrard, Matt Giteau, George Gregan, Julian Huxl

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