A Blues reject and a league convert in his first season of Super Rugby today joined the Wallabies ever-expanding contingent of New Zealand-born imports after Robbie Deans selected Mike Harris and Joe Tomane for the season-opening one-off test against Scotland in Newcastle on Tuesday.
Harris, the North Harbour five-eighth who exploited his Australian ancestry to join Queensland last year after being unable to convince Pat Lam he was capable of making the step up, starts in his preferred role in midfield.
Tomane – who joined the rebuilding ACT Brumbies after an unfulfilling NRL career with the Melbourne Storm and Gold Coast Titans - makes his test debut on the right wing after resisting the challenge of fellow New Zealand-born code jumper Cooper Vuna.
The pair went head-to-head in Friday night’s clash between the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies and although Vuna scored he appeared to be troubled by hamstring and knee injuries; Tomane was effective despite limited opportunities.
Although Quade Cooper and James O’Connor are unavailable due to injury there is still a distinct Kiwi-flavour to the back division with Wellington-born Reds finisher Digby Ioane an automatic choice on the left flank.
New Zealand-born forwards Sekope Kepu, Huia Edmonds, Dean Mumm and Pek Cowan have also been capped at various times since Deans took over as head coach in 2008.
Harris, who qualifies to represent the Wallabies through his Australian-born grandmother, and Tomane – a former Australian schoolboys representative - are among five uncapped players included in the run-on side.
Queensland fullback Luke Morahan, Waratahs blindside flanker Dave Dennis and Brumbies tighthead prop Dan Palmer also earn their maiden caps in the first test to be played at Hunter Stadium.
Brumbies flanker Michael Hooper will join them if and when he is introduced off the bench.
Berrick Barnes was selected as Cooper’s stand-in at first five-eighth after Deans decided the mercurial playmaker was not yet ready for an international return seven months after suffering a serious knee injury against Wales at the World Cup.
Harris was mentioned as a potential pivot after Kurtley Beale aggravated a shoulder injury but Barnes, despite a mixed season with the struggling Waratahs, has to back up from last night’s 33-12 loss to the Hurricanes in Sydney.
However, Harris will lessen the 37-test veteran's workload as the first choice goal kicker.
Cooper had been confident of playing against the Scots after only 120 minutes of game time with Queensland but Deans has decided to send him back to Brisbane to continue his rehabilitation.
''The time we’ve had with Quade this week has been useful, in terms of getting up to speed with where he is at but it was clear he needs more playing time,'' he said.
''Physically he is in great shape, but confidence is important in any sport and you only build that up with game time.''
Instead of being involved in the first of three tests against Six Nations champion Wales at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, a June 15 friendly against the Hurricanes on the Sunshine Coast looms as the next phase of his comeback.
Openside flanker David Pocock was predictably installed as captain in place of the injured James Horwill and will lead the side for the first time in a test.
''Dave has been an established leader within our frame work for some time. He’s already led the Wallabies (against the Barbarians in London last year) and has handled the job well in difficult circumstances with the Western Force,'' Deans said.
The team to play the first Wales test will be named on Thursday once the Wallabies squad moves to Brisbane.
Wallabies: Luke Morahan (Queensland Reds), Joe Tomane (Brumbies), Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), Mike Harris (Queensland Reds), Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds), Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs), Will Genia (Queensland Reds), Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds), David Pocock (Western Force, captain), Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs), Nathan Sharpe (Western Force), Sitaleki Timani (NSW Waratahs), Dan Palmer (Brumbies), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), James Slipper (Queensland Reds). Reserves: Saia Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds),Michael Hooper (Brumbies), Nick Phipps (Melbourne Rebels), Pat McCabe (Brumbies), Adam Ashley Cooper (NSW Waratahs).
- Fairfax Media