Rugby Championship News

Wallaby icons set for emotional farewell

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Wallaby coach John Connolly was forced to make changes to the team to take on South Africa in the return Tri-Nations Test in Sydney on Saturday, a game that will see two of Australia’s rugby icons will bid farewell to fans in their final appearance for the Wallabies on home soil.

The 132-Test veteran George Gregan (scrum-half) and his long-time halfback partner Stephen Larkham (Number 10) will play their final Test in Australia in the Telstra Stadium clash, signaling the end of an era for the Wallabies as the star duo continue their path to a World Cup swansong.

On what will be an historic night for Australian sport, Larkham will play his 100th Test for the Wallabies and in doing so will become the third player to register a century of Test caps for his country – alongside Gregan (132) and David Campese (101).

Connolly, who had three players ruled out through injury and suspension, introducing lock Hugh McMeniman to the replacements bench.

It is a long-awaited return to the Test arena for the injury-plagued 23-year-old, who is in line to play his first match in the Wallabies jersey since the 2005 year-end tour.

Number eight Wycliff Palu will learn of the extent of his shoulder injury later in the week, leaving the door ajar for Stephen Hoiles to make his debut in the Wallabies starting XV.

Hoiles’ place on the replacement bench has been filled by David Lyons, who rejoined the squad after completing the Pacific Nations Cup with Australia ‘A’.

Hooker Stephen Moore succumbed to a sternum injury, allowing Adam Freier the opportunity to make his first appearance in the starting line-up this season.

Freier’s elevation to the starting XV gives Reds and Australia ‘A’ hooker Sean Hardman the chance to win his third Test cap for the Wallabies after being called into the squad on standby for the injured Moore on Monday.

Wing Lote Tuqiri is serving a two-match suspension for failing a breathalyzer test after a night out on the town and his place on the right wing has been awarded to Mark Gerrard, while Drew Mitchell returns to the side on the replacement bench.

Connolly says he expects an emotional home farewell for Gregan and Larkham.

“They are virtually icons of Australian sport,” said Connolly.

“We’ve just been so blessed in this country to have such incredibly consistent players playing in two of our key positions over the past 12 or so years,” he said.

“They are two great warriors of Australian sport and I’m sure they will receive a fitting farewell from the supporters on Saturday, in what is such a crucial Test for the Wallabies.”

The Wallabies can retain the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate with a win on Saturday night and take a giant leap towards winning back the Tri-Nations trophy.

The Wallabies are the Mandela Plate holders after winning two of the three Tests between the two nations in 2006, but the Springboks recorded a fortuitous 22-19 win in Cape Town last month. Victory on Saturday will see the Wallabies draw this year’s two-match series and retain the silverware.

Australia last won the Tri-Nations Cup in 2001, which has been in New Zealand hands for the last two years (2005, 2006). The trophy has been won seven times by New Zealand and twice each by Australia and South Africa.

Australia: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Stirling Mortlock (c), 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (v/c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Matt Dunning.
Replacements: 16 Sean Hardman, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 David Lyons, 20 Phil Waugh (v/c), 21 Scott Staniforth, 22 Drew Mitchell.

Date: Saturday, 7 July
Venue: Telstra Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.05 (10.05 GMT)
Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Steve Walsh (New Zealand), Kevin Deaker (New Zealand)
Television match official: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Assessor: Michel Lamoulie (France)
 
365 Digital

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