Dunning: Don't write us off yet

Prop warns that Australia still pose real threat on tour despite Tri-Nations travails
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The Independent Online

The Recalled prop Matt Dunning has warned northern hemisphere teams not to underestimate Australia as a result of their lack of Tri-Nations success this season.

The Wallabies managed just one win from six attempts against South Africa and New Zealand and will embark on their first Grand Slam tour in 25 years amid rumours of disharmony within the camp.

But Dunning, back in the Wallabies' set-up for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon against the Barbarians at Wembley in December, believes the current squad is capable of emulating the feats of the 1984 side which swept the Home Nations.

"I think we can, whether we do or not is a different story," he said when asked if the Grand Slam is within reach. I hate saying cliches like taking one Test at a time, but you have to, you have to enjoy the fact that you're playing a Test.

"You don't play as many as you think and it's an unbelievable achievement. Playing Ireland at Lansdowne Road and playing Scotland at Murrayfield and [England] at Twickenham is just a phenomenal experience and I think you've got to enjoy each experience and just do your best."

Having been forced to watch the Wallabies' progress from afar this season, the 30-year-old is adamant the fresh-faced squad is on the verge of reaching its significant potential.

"Obviously the boys weren't happy with the way they played in certain games but I thought a few guys played exceptionally well," he said. "They're not far away, I think often you get tied down with wanting to change everything and throw everything out when things aren't going quite right but we're not that far away."

As for the reported rift between coach Robbie Deans and several senior players, Dunning said: "I haven't noticed any disharmony at all, it's all pretty good. Obviously there's a younger group on this tour than previous year or maybe I'm just getting old but I haven't noticed it (tension) at all."

While Dunning concedes he's "not going to be running sub-10 [second] hundreds anymore", the front-rower is confident his injury woes are now in the past and made no secret of his desire to return to the starting side.

"After the trial I didn't think I played as well as I could of so I was a little bit obviously excited when I got the [selection] news on Friday," he said. "Just glad to be here but I guess now I've only got an opportunity, now it's just going out there and hopefully making the Test 22 and adding to the performance of the team. I'm going there to challenge for a Test spot and play but how close or how far away I am I don't know – you'll have to ask Robbie."

The Wallabies begin their end-of-season tour with a historic Bledisloe Cup tie against the All Blacks in Tokyo before facing England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in consecutive weeks. They have also lined up a game against Cardiff Blues on 24 November.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand scrum-half Piri Weepu knows how he shapes up in Wellington's Air New Zealand Cup game against North Harbour on Saturday will determine whether or not he makes the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.

The All Blacks coach Graham Henry names his 33-strong touring party on Sunday and Weepu is aware that after more than two months on the sidelines with an ankle injury, Saturday's game is make or break for him. The 26-year-old has not played since New Zealand lost to South Africa in Durban at the start of August and only returned to training this week. "I need to get a bit of game time under the belt and prove I'm fit enough to try and make the end of year tour," he said.

"I've been out for six or seven weeks now and it's been frustrating but hopefully I can get out there and give it a good run. Running around today, the ankle felt quite good. I probably limped around a little bit at the start but after that once it warmed up and I got stuck in it was pretty good."