While Australia have paid Wales slightly more respect than New Zealand have paid to England in resting their omnipotent outside-half for this weekend's Test, they did signal their belief that they are good enough to win while experimenting by yesterday naming Stephen Larkham at inside centre.
Mat Rogers, the brilliant but still strangely unfulfilled league convert, will start at No 10 tomorrow at the Millennium Stadium in a back division that few from Blaina to Bondi were expecting. Larkham, Australia's undisputed playmaker for almost a decade, will form an untested partnership in the middle of the field alongside Lote Tuqiri, whose explosive talents have hitherto usually been utilised on the wing.
And even in the pivotal berth of scrum-half, John Connolly has selected a player seemingly "out of position" as Matt Giteau, normally a centre, fills in for the stay-at-home George Gregan. Wales did not know whether to laugh themselves silly or cry in indignation.
They should do neither, warned the Australia coach who on Wednesday evening made an uncomfortable return back to his old stamping ground in Swansea to witness his dirt-trackers humbled by an Ospreys second XV. "This tour is all about looking at options," said Connolly. "We are not selling any Tests short and of course want to win, but there are a number of things we would like to understand by the end of the tour."
What Gareth Jenkins, the Wales coach, will surely be trying to understand is why his counterpart is messing with a back line that spared Australia a stuffing the last time the teams met in Cardiff a year ago. Wales eventually sneaked through 24-22 and in recognition that they were flattered after their pack was flattened that day, Connolly has chosen only Nathan Sharpe and Phil Waugh from the embarrassed eight.
But in a sentimental tribute to the popular openside flanker, Waugh will don the captain's armband. "Phil's been a great contributor to us for a long time," Connolly said. "He deserves this honour." All very un-Australian.
Australia (to play Wales at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, tomorrow): C Latham (Queensland Reds); C Rathbone (ACT Brumbies), L Tuqiri (NSW Wara-tahs), S Larkham (ACT Brumbies), C Shepherd (Western Force); M Rogers (NSW Waratahs), M Giteau (Western Force); A Baxter (NSW Waratahs), T McIsaac (Western Force), R Blake (Queensland Reds), N Sharpe (Western Force), D Vickerman (NSW Waratahs), R Elsom (NSW Waratahs), P Waugh (NSW Wara- tahs, capt), W Palu (NSW Waratahs). Replacements: B Cannon (Western Force), B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), M Chisholm (ACT Brumbies), S Hoiles (ACT Brum-bies), J Valentine (Queensland Reds), M Gerrard (ACT Brumbies), A Ashley- Cooper (ACT Brumbies).
* The Coventry full-back Apoua Stewart has been banned for two years after testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine. The Samoan gave a positive sample after the National League One game against Rotherham in September. He admitted the offence when attending a RFU disciplinary panel in Bristol on Wednesday.Reuse content