Australia coach Robbie Deans omitted flyhalf Quade Cooper, but named Israel Folau and two other uncapped players in his preliminary squad of 25 yesterday for the three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions.
Deans, who will add six more players to his squad on June 11, also found places in his party for uncapped No. 8 Ben Mowen and his ACT Brumbies teammate Christian Leali’ifano, who plays at center and flyhalf.
However, there was no spot for Cooper, who was Australia’s first-choice flyhalf until he sustained a knee injury at the 2011 World Cup and last year fell out with Deans when he spoke of a “toxic” environment in the Wallabies camp.
“People will say that’s the end for Quade but that’s not the case,” Deans told a news conference. “There are still six places to be resolved and ... I’ve selected him on 38 occasions so he’s had a lot of faith and support from me, and to suggest otherwise is nonsense.
“He will get the opportunity to play against the Lions. Test rugby is another level from Super Rugby, we would like to see Quade defend in the front line and we would like him to assert himself physically in the game because it’s an element you can’t avoid at test level,” Deans added. “He’s got a great opportunity to do that, and dent the Lions as well, playing for the Reds.”
Cooper’s opportunity will come when the Queensland Reds host the Lions in Brisbane on June 8.
Cooper’s friend and fellow flyhalf Kurtley Beale was also omitted after being suspended indefinitely to undergo treatment for “personal issues” earlier this month.
Former rugby league international Folau, who has played 12 games of rugby union since switching from the Australian rules code, was rewarded for his fine form at fullback for the Waratahs.
First-choice hooker Tatafu Polota Nau, who broke his forearm playing for the New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, was left out, with Stephen Moore and Saia Faingaa the specialist hookers.
Openside flanker George Smith, who was set to return from international retirement, was also left out after injuring his knee on Saturday, with Michael Hooper and Liam Gill left to battle it out for the No. 7 shirt.
Wingers Joe Tomane and Nick Cummins, who both made their Test debuts last season, were included, while there was still a place for Digby Ioane, who is leaving Australia at the end of the season to play for Stade Francais.
Uncapped Brumbies duo Jesse Mogg and Nic White were also not included in the initial squad.
Fullback Mogg was the front-runner for inclusion in the squad after some scintillating early season Super Rugby form.
Scrumhalf White had been widely tipped to back up Will Genia for the series, though still may get a chance, with the Queensland Reds player the only specialist No. 9 named in the initial squad.