SYDNEY, October 23 – The Wallabies embark on their first grand slam tour of Britain and Ireland in 25 years with a new leadership team, once established stars no longer certain of their positions and flyhalf Matt Giteau at odds with the coach.
Reputations have counted for nothing in the fallout from a dismal Tri-Nations’ campaign of just one win from six Tests with coach Robbie Deans making some big selection calls.
Deans ruffled some feathers within the ranks when he admitted the Wallabies had "rolled over" in their 33-6 capitulation to the All Blacks in Wellington last month and acted decisively when naming his 35-strong touring squad.
In a bid to instil a winning culture, Deans stripped the captaincy off Stirling Mortlock, handed it to flanker Rocky Elsom and bypassed senior players, Giteau and George Smith, to make Berrick Barnes the team vice captain.
In the days before the squad’s departure for Tokyo and a Bledisloe Cup international with New Zealand on October 31, news filtered through that the 105-Test capped flanker Smith was under threat of holding his spot in the team after he was seen training with the second-stringers.
Giteau, whose form fell away late in the Wallabies’ Tri-Nations campaign, was also rumoured to be facing a shift to inside-centre, making way for Barnes to call the shots at fly-half.
Giteau, once touted as the premier fly-half in world rugby, played in all 14 Tests last year and in eight so far this year at number 10.
Mortlock, who admitted he was not informed by Deans that he would be losing the captaincy after 28 Tests, will miss the first two Tests in Tokyo and London with a calf injury, but his playing future is unclear beyond the tour.
Deans is adamant that the Wallabies, still ranked at number three in world rugby behind the Springboks and the All Blacks, cannot continue life in the comfort zone.
"I hope there is some (tension), because there is going to be in terms of the challenge we are going into," Deans said ahead of the team’s Saturday departure.
"In any squad there are dynamics, chemistry, emotion, and that’s just par for the course.
"The reality for us is that we cannot stay in our current comfort zone and also achieve.
"So we’re all going to be tested and taken out of our comfort zone over the next month. It’s going to be great.
"The good thing now is that we are getting leadership across the group."
The Wallabies face a demanding tour with internationals against New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on five consecutive weekends as they seek to emulate the historic feats of the 1984 side that beat all the home unions for the ‘grand slam’.
The squad contains seven uncapped players — Western Force flanker Matt Hodgson, NSW Waratahs utility back Kurtley Beale, Queensland Reds scrum-half Richard Kingi, Waratahs midfield back Rob Horne, ACT Brumbies blindside flanker Mitchell Chapman, Waratahs lock Dave Dennis and Brumbies prop Salesi Ma’afu.