Cape Town - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has revealed his 34-man squad for the upcoming June Tests against Fiji, Scotland and Italy.
Dean Mumm, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Rob Horne and Will Skelton have all been omitted from Cheika’s first 2017 squad.
Eight potential debutants have been named in the June squad, with Ned Hanigan, Marika Koroibete, Richard Hardwick, Joe Powell, Jack Dempsey, Eto Nabuli, Lukhan Tui and Karmichael Hunt in the mix.
He batted away suggestions, though, that this was an experimental group, that he might not have taken risks on in a Bledisloe.
“This is a strategy we want to pursue,” he said.
“We’ve got to back our young players that are coming through and are putting form on the board.
“You can see some of our experienced players are there as well but young players are putting their hand up and showing that they want to be a part of it.”
While many of the most high-profile omissions are heading overseas or retiring, Cheika said the future had no impact on that.
“I said to those guys when they decided to choose a departure that we’re not here to bite off nose to spite our face.
“Our position is more like if we thought we were going to pick one of those guys in the starting team, then we’ll bring them in.
“Around the squad as a whole, it’s an opportunity then to get a taste for some younger guys who will be here in ‘18 and ‘19 and who we think will benefit from being in and around the squad and maybe getting game time.
“I think that’s a pretty sound philosophy. We’re looking at form - Would that player be picked in the starting test team right now? - and decide from there.”
Reds second rower Tui is the biggest surprise in the 34-man squad and one of only two players to be included without having been involved in any Wallabies camps this year, along with Queensland team-mate Scott Higginbotham.
“Lukhan, I think he wouldn’t have been a player on our radar earlier in the year,” Cheika said.
“He’s just shown through his performance on field - raw, but I think one of the big differentiating factors is the impact he’s making in games.”
Higginbotham is in his first Wallabies setup since the 2015 Rugby Championship, with Super Rugby form forcing Cheika’s hand.
Simmons has long been a Test mainstay, though had a mixed 2016, and Cheika said he simply needed to see more grunt from the Reds lock, but was by no means out of contention going forward.
“He could be one of the best locks going around when he brings that type of impact and aggression top the game that I know he can do, when he gets angry.
“He’s brought it inconsistently, and he’s, mature enough now to bring it consistently.”
Cheika’s selection signals a major changing of the guard, with just 10 players in the squad who featured in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, and 12 from the Test mentor’s first squad as Wallabies coach in 2014.
Waratahs backrower Jack Dempsey is the only one of four 2016 Spring Tour development players to be in the squad, despite missing 10 weeks with a foot injury, and playing just half an hour of club rugby on his return last weekend.
Scott Sio has been named despite being unavailable for the first Test through injury, while Cheika expects Dane Haylett-Petty and Nick Phipps to be fit to play come June 10.
Michael Hooper, Richard Hardwick*, Ned Hanigan*, Jack Dempsey*, Scott Higginbotham, Lopeti Timani, Stephen Moore (c), Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio, Tom Robertson, Toby Smith, Sekope Kepu, Allan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Lukhan Tui*
Bernard Foley, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Joe Powell*, Nick Phipps, Reece Hodge, Samu Kerevi, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Eto Nabuli*, Marika Koroibete*, Henry Speight, Karmichael Hunt*, Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau, Sefa Naivalu