Code-jumper Israel Folau has been included, but controversial flyhalf Quade Cooper omitted from a Wallabies planning camp this weekend for the British and Irish Lions tour, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) confirmed yesterday.
Cooper had already told local media of his exclusion from the 30-strong party, but coach Robbie Deans said missing the camp did not rule a player out of participation in the three Tests against the tourists in June and July.
“There’s something like eight rounds to go before we gather for the Lions tour,” Deans told reporters in Sydney, adding that Cooper, Kurtley Beale and other regular Test players, like winger Drew Mitchell and prop Sekope Kepu, could still be included.
“So there’s still a lot of rugby to be played, a lot of water to go under the bridge and a lot of opportunity for everyone to press their claims,” Deans said.
Former rugby league international back Folau was included on the back of improved performances for the New South Wales Waratahs in his debut season in rugby union, after making the switch from the Australian rules code.
Folau was one of seven uncapped players invited to Sydney to participate in the camp tomorrow and Monday, when they will “conclude off-field requirements and team planning” for the Lions series.
Players had been selected on early season Super Rugby form.
Eleven players from the table-topping ACT Brumbies were invited, with in-form, but uncapped back-rower Ben Mowen, No. 8 Fotu Auelua, scrumhalf Nic White and fullback Jesse Mogg among them.
However, there was no place for George Smith, as the 110-cap flanker remains ineligible due to his contract with a Japanese club.
Cooper’s omission and the indefinite ban for fighting his teammates handed to Beale last month leaves James O’Connor, Berrick Barnes and uncapped Christian Lealiifano as the flyhalf options.
Beale would be considered again when he resumes playing, Deans said.
“Kurtley’s obviously not playing at the moment. He’s sought help, which is great, so he’s going through a counseling process,” Deans said.
“He’s got to go through that first and that’s got to run its course and, if and when he becomes available, we’d consider it then,” he said.
“He’d return to the Rebels and play, so we’d obviously observe with interest,” Deans added.
Cooper fell out with Deans in spectacular fashion last year when he slammed the coach’s tactics and what he said was a “toxic” atmosphere in the Wallabies camp.
The first 25-man Wallabies squad for the Lions series are to be named on May 19, with a further six players added when the Super Rugby season pauses for the international break.