rugby.com.au and James Mortimer 26.Jul.2013Getty Images
McKenzie has deliberately cast a wide net in selecting his inaugural 40-man training squad with 10 uncapped players included for the opening week of camp.
They will join an experienced core of players who will all be vying for selection in Australia’s opening Bledisloe Cup and Investec Rugby Championship clash with New Zealand at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday 17 August.
“At this stage it’s important that as many players as possible gain exposure to our program and that everyone is receiving an opportunity to push their case for selection before we narrow down our squad,” McKenzie said.
“The first five days will be invaluable in this respect as there are some players I know very well and others that I’m interested in learning more about.
“What I do know though, as is evidenced by the fact that we’ve chosen 10 uncapped players for the training camp, is that Australian Rugby does have a lot of depth and talent coming through, now and for the future.
“We’ve taken that very much into consideration with our selections and believe this squad is capable of having success right now, while also expediting the development process for some of the younger guys who we see as having the potential to represent Australia in a few years.”
Long-serving lock James Horwill will captain the Qantas Wallabies squad, which also includes 21 players who earned at least one cap during Australia’s recent three-game Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
Of the omissions from the British & Irish Lions series, Kurtley Beale and Wycliff Palu have not been considered for selection due to injury, joining Qantas Wallabies regulars David Pocock, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe and Scott Higginbotham on the sideline.
Beale is set to undergo surgery on his shoulder later this week and will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2013 season, while Palu will be unavailable during the early stages of Australia’s campaign as he continues rehabilitation from surgery to repair damaged meniscus in a knee.
Reds’ winger Rod Davies, Western Force centre Kyle Godwin and Waratahs’ wingers Cam Crawford are also unavailable for selection due to injury.
In finalising his initial 40-man squad, McKenzie has also given priority to players who are committed to Australian Rugby in 2014 and beyond, with many tough selection decisions favouring those players available for Qantas Wallabies selection in years to come.
“We’ve assessed each case on its own merits, but it’s important that we are, where possible, making investments in players that are going to provide value for Australian Rugby over the next few seasons,” McKenzie said.
“That was definitely a major consideration in selecting this training squad.
“With new systems to install, we’ve also put a lot of weight on those players who are healthy and able to contribute fully in training in the lead-up to our opening two Tests.
“There is only a very short period before our first match, so it’s paramount that the players are in a strong position mentally and physically to be investing all their time now into understanding what we are trying to achieve.
“We’re also trying to develop strong combinations and competition across all positions and you can only do that by having players who are available to train and compete.”
The Qantas Wallabies will have just a fortnight to prepare for their opening game against the All Blacks, where a victory could prove decisive in Australia’s quest to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.
The following week in Wellington an opportunity also exists for the Qantas Wallabies to snap a 12-year losing drought against the All Blacks in New Zealand, with Australia’s last victory coming at Dunedin in 2001.
“It’s always going to be challenging when you come up against the number one team in the world, but it also gives you the greatest opportunity to make a statement,” McKenzie said.
“If we want to change where we are in the Rugby landscape, this is a great place to start. Effectively, the Bledisloe Cup is there for the taking if we are good enough over two weekends.
“We’ll have some different thoughts and ideas about how we go about it. The reality is we’ve got to challenge ourselves to do things differently otherwise the outcomes will remain the same.
“We’ll be able to go into that first game in our own backyard, in front of a full house, with some element of surprise. I don’t think that’s a bad situation.”
Tickets for the Qantas Wallabies clash against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on Saturday 17 August are on sale now via www.ticketek.com.au
Wallabies first squad (expected to be cut to 30
Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Nick Cummins, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Anthony Faingaa, Saia Faingaa, Scott Fardy, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Liam Gill, Mike Harris, Michael Hooper, James Horwill, Sekope Kepu, Peter Kimlin, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Jesse Mogg, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, James O'Connor, Nick Phipps, Tatafu Polota Nau, Hugh Pyle, Benn Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Jake Schatz, Rob Simmons, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Joe Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White.