Drew Mitchell and Radike Samo return to the Wallabies after injury for the inaugural Rugby Championship in a squad announced yesterday, which also includes three uncapped players.
Mitchell and Samo missed the June Tests, when Australia were beaten by Scotland before clean-sweeping Wales 3-0, but the pair finished the Super 15 season well, before impressing at recent national training camps.
Mitchell is back after ankle and hamstring injuries and will be a welcome addition to the Wallabies, with only five players scoring more Australian Test tries than the 28-year-old, who has been capped 58 times.
Samo is fit again after a shoulder injury that blighted his Super 15 campaign. The widely traveled loose forward made a remarkable Test return last year after a seven-year absence and ended that year with a Tri-Nations title.
The three uncapped players include two of the most recent Australian under-20 captains — Liam Gill, who skippered the side at this year’s junior World Cup in South Africa, and his predecessor Jake Schatz.
Hard-working NSW Waratahs lock Kane Douglas also earns a call-up.
The inclusion of Gill, plus June newcomer Michael Hooper from the ACT Brumbies, bolsters the Wallabies’ back-up resources behind premier openside flanker and captain David Pocock.
The selections of second-rower Douglas and Sitaleki Timani add size and power to the Australian set-pieces.
The two young locks, along with Rob Simmons, will be mentored by Test centurion Nathan Sharpe. The 34-year-old’s decision to stay on for the Rugby Championship provides an opportunity to chase down George Smith as the second most-capped Wallaby.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s flank Schalk Burger has been ruled out of the inaugural four-nation Rugby Championship and in-form J.P. Pietersen will miss most of the tournament.
Burger, capped 68 times, injured his knee at the end of February, but there has been no progress in his rehabilitation according to Allister Coetzee, coach of his club Stormers.
“The position with Schalk is very frustrating and we are going to get a full assessment shortly from a physician on where it should be taken from here, but you can take it as read that we won’t see Schalk play before the end of this season,” Coetzee told the Supersport.com Web site. “Without even looking at the physician’s report, we are writing him off for the year.”
Pietersen, a 26-year-old veteran of 45 Tests, suffered a fracture of the thumb during the weekend’s Super Rugby final and will undergo surgery today.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has recalled Stormers center Juan de Jongh, last year’s World Cup player and a controversial omission from the original squad, in Pietersen’s place.
The 24-year-old De Jongh made his Springbok debut against Wales in 2010 and has 10 Test caps.
“We decided to pick Juan as he provides midfield cover, an area where we are perhaps a bit thin now that J.P. is out,” Meyer said in a statement on Monday. “Losing J.P. is obviously a massive blow as he’s been playing some superb rugby lately, but Juan has also been in good form for the Stormers and was one of the unlucky players to miss out on initial selection.”
The Rugby Championship replaces the Tri-Nations this year with Argentina joining the existing line-up of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. South Africa finished last in last year’s Tri-Nations, with just one win in four matches.