Sat, Jun 02, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Larkham to boost Aussies against Wales


Australia will have Stephen Larkham back directing traffic at flyhalf, giving the Wallabies a boost in today's second rugby Test and adding to Wales' degree of difficulty to level the series.

An understrength Welsh team surprised Australia in the first Test last weekend, jumping to a 17-0 lead before going down 29-23 after conceding a last-minute try in the corner.

Australia used its opening Test of the World Cup year to experiment with a young and inexperienced inside back combination, due to Larkham's withdrawal with a hamstring strain and selectors wanting to see more of Matt Giteau at scrumhalf.

The backline was disjointed in attack, something the presence of 95-test veteran Larkham should address.

Larkham shrugged off another hamstring strain he picked up at practice on Wednesday and said he'd be fully fit for today's match.

"I felt no pain out there today and I'm very confident I'll be 100 percent," he said. "I wouldn't risk it if I wasn't 100 percent."

Australia coach John Connolly's key changes to the backline were to recall Larkham at No. 10 and give Digby Ioane a debut on the wing.

He retained Giteau at scrumhalf, leaving George Gregan -- Australia's most capped player -- on the bench, and Adam Ashley-Cooper at inside center to work around Larkham.

Scott Johnson, Australia's attack coach, said Larkham's influence on and off the field was crucial for the squad's development.

"We've got to look beyond Stephen as he is leaving us shortly. We have to tap into his intellectual property, so that we are not so exposed by his departure," Johnson said. "Stephen wasn't successful by fluke. He had something unique about him."

He will be marking James Hook, the Welsh flyhalf who was voted player of the match in the first Test.

Wales made five changes, some forced by injuries, including captain Gareth Thomas moving from wing to fullback.

A front row reshuffle was unavoidable because of injuries, giving coach Gareth Jenkins more concern with his own casualty list than Australia's.

"There is plenty of drama around both camps at the moment," Jenkins said. "It's the way the game is. If Larkham gets there and does play he will be a big plus for them. If he doesn't they have got selection options and I'm sure they will be pretty comfortable with them. The emphasis has been on ourselves, not on them. We feel we can improve by 30 percent. We've worked all week and tried to achieve that in our training sessions."

Ceri Jones was drafted in as tighthead prop after Adam Jones was ruled out, and Wales had to fly in Chris Horsman as cover on the bench. He was due to arrive yesterday.

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