Wycliff Palu and Matt Giteau returned to the fold as coach Michael Cheika rolled out the big guns in his 31-man squad for Saturday week’s Rugby Championship decider against the All Blacks.
Joining the experienced duo in the squad was uncapped prop Toby Smith, who is the newcomer in the group ahead of the clash with New Zealand that doubles as the first of two Bledisloe Cup Tests.
Palu, who has been rested from the opening two Test wins over South Africa and Argentina, while Giteau had a break after copping a battering against the Springboks.
“We’re starting to get a few more experienced players back and that can only be helpful,” Cheika said.
Powerful No.8 Palu’s return is massive for the squad, according to Cheika.
“He’s a very well-respected member of the team,” he said.
“Just to have his seniority back in the mix and him around training, nudging a few blokes here and there just gives us a little bit more self belief.”
Palu rejected any assertions he’s had the feet up while his teammates have slogged it out in the championship.
“I wouldn’t call it a few weeks off. I’ve been training pretty hard. I think I just got to iron out a niggles that I had,” said the NSW Waratahs forward.
“I’m pretty lucky to get this opportunity to add to the group. The boys have been going well and it should be good.”
The back-to-back outings against the top-ranked Kiwis in Sydney and Auckland and a Test against the USA in Chicago in early September will be Cheika’s last three matches before he settles on a 31-man World Cup squad.
Cheika was delighted to give the New Zealand-educated Smith a call up after the Melbourne Rebels man impressed during recent camps.
“Toby has had a solid season with the Rebels, and has been working really hard while the group has been away,” Cheika said.
Players to miss out were No.8 Scott Higginbotham, hooker James Hanson and winger Nick Cummins.
Despite being cut, Cheika said players like Higginbotham remained in the frame for the World Cup.
“I’ve spoken with Scott and he knows he’s very much in contention for a place and I’m just maneuvering the squad around,” he said.
Cheika resisted any urge to rush former Test lock Kane Douglas straight back in after he signed a three-year deal with the Queensland Reds on Friday following his return from Ireland.
The coach indicated Wallabies staff would assess in the next week how well he had recovered from back surgery before deciding when he might come into the selection frame.
“I don’t think he’s picked up his bags from the airport, has he? I’m not sure,” he said.
“What will be best to do there is talk to him and see how he’s feeling physically, get him to have a bit of a run around and we might have a look at him later on in the week and see if he’s in the condition for us to have a look at him next week or the week after.”
Winger Henry Speight has been named in the squad after serving a ban for the lifting tackle from the Super Rugby season.