Barnes return creates Wallabies dilemma
Radar-boot Mike Harris is up for a stern fight to keep his Wallabies fullback jersey ahead of returning stalwart Berrick Barnes.
Barnes is set to be named among an experienced trio, including flanker David Pocock and hooker Stephen Moore, to return from injury in Australia’s four-Test tour of Europe.
Coach Robbie Deans will Thursday morning announce a 30-man squad for the end-of-season tour where the Wallabies will kick off proceedings against France on November 10 before playing England, Italy and Wales.
Barnes, a veteran of 45 Tests, hasn’t played since puncturing his lung in the September 30 loss to South Africa in Pretoria but would be expected to slot straight back into Deans’ inexperienced backline.
New Zealand product Harris exceeded expectations in his two starts at fullback in the utility back’s absence and has been a star with the boot.
The 24-year-old has kicked a combined 12 goals from 13 attempts under huge pressure in the 25-19 win over Argentina in Rosario and 18-18 draw with the All Blacks at a packed Suncorp Stadium.
With the Wallabies crossing for just 12 tries from 11 Tests this year and relying more and more on goalkicking, Harris made a strong case for retention ahead of big-stage clashes at Stade de France and Twickenham.
While Barnes has long been a Deans favourite, the coach was also highly impressed by Harris’s positional play at fullback considering he’d had just one previous start at No.15 for Queensland last year.
“Having had minimal games at fullback in my career I feel I’m getting more comfortable there with every chance I get to put the 15 jersey on,” Harris told AAP.
“It would be a dream come true to start and kick goals at those stadiums – it doesn’t get much bigger than that.
“Berrick is coming back from a severe punctured lung so hopefully he’ll be ready to tour with us and that will create a selection dilemma for Robbie.”
Deans’ biggest dilemma is whether to take blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham following his two-Test ban for kneeing and headbutting All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.
Higginbotham would miss the two toughest matches on tour against Les Bleus and England, and be a mere passenger until the November 24 clash with Italy in Florence.
World-class finisher Digby Ioane is expected to recover from a knee problem to tour in what would be a major relief considering Australia’s wafer-thin wing stocks following the loss of seven Test flyers to injury.
While Pocock was skipper for the first five Tests this year, Nathan Sharpe will keep the captaincy duties as the No.7 returns from knee surgery.
With Moore back from a hamstring injury, Deans must choose between Reds teammates James Hanson and Saia Faingaa for the third hooker spot.
© AAP 2013
Possible Wallabies squad: Forwards – Benn Robinson, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Ben Alexander, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Stephen Moore, James Hanson, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Dave Dennis, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Radike Samo or Scott Higginbotham.
Backs – Nick Phipps, Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Anthony Faingaa, Ben Tapuai, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Nick Cummins, Drew Mitchell, Mike Harris.
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