Deans pulls surprise naming Palu at No 8

ON THE FIELD: Wycliff Palu in action against Wales.
ON THE FIELD: Wycliff Palu in action against Wales.

He has tended to exacerbate a crisis rather than be considered the solution to one in recent seasons, but Wycliff Palu is confident his shock comeback to test rugby in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup finale against the All Blacks is a calculated risk worth taking.

When the bullocking though injury-blighted No 8 was summoned to the Wallabies camp on Sunday, it was thought his inclusion was an opportunity for the 30-year-old to reacquaint himself with the team systems ahead of the end-of-year tour to the UK and Europe.

But yesterday it emerged Wallabies coach Robbie Deans had a more pressing assignment for the 41-test veteran who missed the inaugural Rugby Championship with shoulder nerve damage - a starting role at Suncorp Stadium, where Australia hopes to thwart the All Blacks' bid to equal the world record of 17 consecutive test victories.

Palu played a leading role in the three-test blanking of Six Nations champion Wales in June but has been sidelined since suffering his latest injury against the Brumbies on July 7 and only returned to contact "grappling" work at the Waratahs a fortnight ago.

"It was a bit of a surprise but that's why you play. There's nothing better than running against the All Blacks," said Palu, whose elevation offers ageing Reds cult figure Radike Samo a well-deserved rest.

Palu has spent the bulk of his rehabilitation building his aerobic fitness by pounding the staircases at Sydney eastern suburbs beaches, a fitting regime considering the mountain he - and his team-mates - must climb to secure a rare victory over the world champions.

Palu played his most recent Bledisloe when the rivals played at Tokyo in 2009 and was vague on his success rate against the All Blacks, assuming it was "two from 20 or something like that".

In fact he has celebrated after two of his eight previous trans-Tasman encounters - in Melbourne before the 2007 World Cup and a year after when Deans marked his first test against his homeland with a stirring triumph in Sydney.

Palu was coy about the prospects of toasting a long overdue success this weekend - he watched the All Blacks Cup-retaining wins in Auckland and Sydney with trepidation - and was also reluctant to put a timeframe on his likely involvement as he laughed: "I'll just go as hard as I can for as long as I can.

"I should be all right, we had a pretty big hit out [yesterday]. I thought I'd be a bit rusty but I was pretty comfortable."

Deans is also satisfied with a left field call to combat an All Black loose trio spearheaded by the indomitable Richie McCaw and captain-in-waiting Kieran Read, the world's leading No 8.

"We've observed a lot of his [rehab] work. It's been anything but a break for Cliffy," he said.

"He's got a presence, he's very good around the contact. It'll be good to have someone like Cliffy down the inside channel providing resistance where the All Blacks apply a lot of resource."

Deans also declined to estimate what amount of game time would justify Palu's inclusion: "We'll unleash him," he said, "and see how long he goes."

Mindful of Palu's lack of match fitness, Deans again loaded his bench with loose forward cover, while starting lock Sitaleki Timani can also slot in at blindside.

Scott Higginbotham returns to the side of the scrum against the All Blacks after being among the reserves against Argentina in Rosario; Dave Dennis and openside Liam Gill are on standby to add impact to the crucial tackle area.

Wallabies: Mike Harris, Nick Cummins, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (c), Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell. 

Fairfax Media