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The Wallabies tour of Hong Kong, Europe could be a major selection trial before the World Cup
Thursday 18, Nov 2010

The Wallabies tour of Hong Kong and Europe is looming as the last major selection trial before the World Cup in New Zealand next year, and competition is hotting up in several positions. Australia's World Cup aspirants will have a chance to press their claims in the expanded Super rugby series next year, but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans's assessment of how players perform on this tour will be crucial. While Super rugby form is important, the only real way to know whether a player can cope with the higher demands of Test rugby is to see him play Test rugby. By the time the Wallabies compete in the abbreviated Tri-Nations tournament next year, the World Cup squad will be close to completion. The final cut for the 30-man World Cup squad is far from conclusive. Deans is taking away 36 players on this seven-game tour, which includes five Tests and two midweek games. Apart from players such as halfback Richard Kingi, second-rower Kane Douglas, lock/flanker Mitch Chapman, back five forward Dave Dennis and winger Nick Cummins, who may consider themselves unlucky not to go, another seven established Test players were unavailable - James Horwill, Rob Horne, Digby Ioane, Stirling Mortlock, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Dan Vickerman. Deans has worked hard on developing Australia's depth since taking over as Wallabies coach in 2008 and the result is that some very good players are going to miss out. The keenest competition will come in the second-row, backrow and wings. With Horwill an almost certain selection for the World Cup, there is a lot of pressure on the five second-rowers in the touring party - Mark Chisholm, Van Humphries, Dean Mumm, Nathan Sharpe and Rob Simmons - for perhaps two or three other lock spots in the squad for New Zealand. Vickerman, who is studying at Cambridge University and will not be available to play in Australia until the end of the Super rugby season, is the wild-card. It is difficult to imagine Vickerman being omitted from the World Cup squad, but he has to present himself in the right shape to play Test rugby. Much will depend on how many specialist second-rowers Deans wants to take to New Zealand and how many lock/flankers are accommodated. Mumm and Ben McCalman have both been positioned as lock/loose forwards for the tour. With McCalman impressing at number eight in Palu's absence, Richard Brown may have a fight on his hands to make the World Cup squad as a third number eight. But Brown's versatility will help him to compete with flankers Matt Hodgson and Pat McCutcheon for the back-up openside flanker role. There is a real log jam developing on the Wallabies' flanks. Much will depend on whether Ioane is seen primarily as a winger or outside centre. If Ioane goes to the World Cup as a winger, it will leave Rod Davies, Peter Hynes, Drew Mitchell, Luke Morahan, James O'Connor and Lachie Turner to compete for possibly just two spots. O'Connor could be selected as a fullback along with Kurtley Beale, which would relieve some pressure on the wings. If the Wallabies achieve good results in the Tests - and the midweek games - Deans may find the answers to a lot of the questions he is no doubt asking himself at present.

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