Uncapped Henry Speight to debut for Wallabies
The Wallabies formalised a tug of war victory over New Zealand rugby today, though from the All Blacks' perspective ideally Henry Speight will not compromise the world champions' Bledisloe Cup reign and defence of the Rugby Championship.
One cult figure of Australian rugby replaced another when Ewen McKenzie named a 32-man squad that predictably included the Fijian-born wing - although he cannot be picked for the tests against the All Blacks in Sydney and Auckland next month plus the Springboks in Perth on September 6.
The Hamilton Boys' High School-educated finisher, who was approached to join the Chiefs in 2012 a year after making his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies, is expected to make his test debut on September 13 against Argentina on the Gold Coast, two days after an IRB-imposed stand down expires.
He can then play the Springboks in Cape Town, Pumas in Mendoza before an anticipated first cap against the All Blacks in Brisbane on October 18 - a potential dead rubber.
Speight trained with the Wallabies for the first time before last month's home series against France and would have been named regardless of whether Western Force character Nick Cummins had signalled a move to Japan.
The 26-year-old is the only uncapped member of a squad that also includes a recall for fellow Brumbies wing Joe Tomane and veteran prop Ben Alexander, who have both recovered from injuries.
However, halfback Will Genia and first five-eighth Quade Cooper are still playing a waiting game as they recover from injuries that may yet see them feature in the tournament.
Speight was the obvious talking point at the team announcement - his inclusion was a formality although he has only scored two tries in 2014 heading into Saturday's Super Rugby semifinal with the Waratahs.
His evasiveness and power running should be an asset to the Wallabies back three while the Wallabies head coach was also impressed with Speight's attitude as he sat out a three-year residential qualification.
"I was very impressed with him on and off the field given he wasn't formally involved," McKenzie said of Speight's role in the previous Wallabies camp.
"We've seen his form of late, it's been very interesting. He's an interesting player for us in the longer term."
Speight was invited to the camp to get acquainted with team systems and although he is assured of joining compatriot Tevita Kuridrani in the test backline in September, he was low-key after last weekend's qualifying final win over the Chiefs.
Asked after the Brumbies' qualifying final win over the Chiefs if it was difficult knowing there were already high expectations before his promotion to test rugby, Speight shrugged: "I don't know about that.
"It's something I've come to accept, there's nothing I can do about it any more. All I can do is try and play well every week."
In stark contrast to the lead-up to McKenzie's first Rugby Championship, there will be no debutants playing the All Blacks in Sydney on August 16.
Twelve months ago McKenzie included five uncapped players when he opened his tenure with a 47-29 loss at ANZ Stadium - first five-eighth Matt Toomua, flanker Scott Fardy, halfback Nic White and centre Kuridrani are now established in the match-day 23 while Scott Sio is still in the propping rotation.
Meanwhile, Speight's inclusion was not the only predictable element to McKenzie's announcement - inevitably he was also asked if this was a roster capable of holding the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2003.
"I'd like to think we have (closed the gap on the All Blacks)," he said.
"All I can say is each time we played them last year we got closer on the scoreboard, but we didn't beat them.
"Since then we've worked hard on developing a playing style that suits the Wallabies, suits the players in Australian rugby. We saw that in the French series (won 3-0).
"We've had some consistent success on the field so that goes to confidence," McKenzie said, noting a current seven-test winning sequence.
"All of those things are a bit different to the last time we confronted them. We can talk about these things now but the reality is the 80 minutes.
"The raw ingredients are positive for us but we have to turn that into something."
SQUAD: Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Nathan Charles, James Hanson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sam Carter, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Scott Fardy, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Wycliff Palu, Luke Burgess, Nick Phipps, Nic White, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Henry Speight, Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe, Joe Tomane.