SYDNEY, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A string of Wallaby greats have called on coach Robbie Deans to spare Matt Giteau the axe and include the 92-test back in Australia’s squad for the World Cup when it is named on Thursday.
Australia’s sixth most capped player of all time played in the last two versions of rugby’s showpiece event and was nominated for IRB World Player of the Year as recently as 2009.
However, the meteoric rise of Quade Cooper saw Giteau lose the starting flyhalf spot, and a poor Super rugby campaign, combined with a disappointing display in Australia’s upset loss to Samoa, has put his place in the squad in jeopardy.
Deans was keeping his cards close to his chest when he returned from South Africa on Wednesday but was met with a barrage of advice from former players and coaches to include Giteau in his 30-man party for the World Cup in New Zealand.
“He’s too good a player to leave out of the squad in total,” former flyhalf Mark Ella told Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph.
Stephen Larkham pointed out the backline options that Giteau, who has scored 684 test points, would offer the Wallabies.
“Gits can play anywhere, including halfback. He’s very versatile, is a left-foot option and is very experienced,” the 1999 World Cup winner said. “You want someone like that in the squad.”
Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, who led Australia’s 2003 World Cup campaign, was in no doubt the 28-year-old was a still a world-class player and should be included.
“He’s still got it, mate,” he told the paper. “He understands the game, is a left-foot kick and can play nine, 10 and 12. Not many footballers can do that.
“He’d be in the top three halfbacks running around in Australia anyway.”
Giteau’s ability to play scrumhalf would offer Deans the option of taking just Will Genia and Luke Burgess to New Zealand and leave Nick Phipps at home.
Berrick Barnes’s return to World Cup contention as a backline utility after taking a break to recover from a series of concussions also offers Deans cover at flyhalf, inside centre and fullback.
Deans faces other tough decisions over spots in the World Cup squad with a strong contingent of proven test performers returning from injury.
Winger Drew Mitchell (broken ankle), prop James Slipper (ankle) and hooker Tafatu Polota-Nau (knees) could be picked without playing a game since being injured.
Injury-prone number eight Wycliff Palu, who is recovering from knee surgery, is another player hoping to be picked on reputation.
“We’ve had all those internal selection discussions and we’re clear in our mind,” Deans told reporters at Sydney airport. “We’ve been watching (the injured players) and we know where they’re at but today is an opportunity to see them and talk to them.
“We’ve got the squad resolved, it’s just communicating it now.” (Reporting by Thomas Williams and Nick Mulvenney; editing by Editing by Peter Rutherford)
(For the sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport))
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