Robbie Deans said yesterday his Wallabies have the power to counter the physical threat posed by the British and Irish Lions next month as he announced his preliminary 25-man squad.
The Australia coach expressed great confidence in the strength and balance of his selection, believing he has covered all bases and can counter the experienced Lions' back line, the strongest area of Warren Gatland's touring party.
"We understand what's coming and that the Lions have a very experienced combination," Deans said. "They have a physical side, particularly in the back line, so we have to deal with that and bring something of our own. We believe we have put together a group that can cater for both elements."
The former rugby league player Israel Folau was included in Deans' squad, with Quade Cooper the most notable omission. James O'Connor, Berrick Barnes and Christian Lealiifano were all included in the squad as options at No 10 or 12, although there is still room for a recall for Cooper, with six more players to be added to the squad on 11 June.
Cooper continues to pay the price for criticising the Wallabies and Deans last year with his public remarks about the "toxic environment" in the squad, being left out despite his strong halves partnership with Queensland teammate Will Genia.
"People will say that's the end for Quade, but that's not the case," Deans said. "I've selected him on 38 occasions. He's had a lot of faith and support from me."
The New Zealand-born Cooper was Deans' first-choice fly-half in the lead-up to and during the 2011 World Cup, but had a tournament to forget under intense scrutiny in the host nation and finished up with a season-ending knee injury in the third-place play-off.
Australia's captain for the Lions series will be named when Deans finalises his squad next month, but it is widely expected to be lock James Horwill.
It remains unclear what plans Deans has for incumbent full-back Kurtley Beale, who is not playing while he undergoes rehabilitation treatment to overcome issues with alcohol. "He's taken the initiative to put himself through a rehab process and that's a great step," Deans said. "It's a great piece of encouragement, to be honest. So he's got a chance."
The Lions will play nine matches in Australia, starting against the Western Force in Perth on 5 June.
Israel Folau, Digby Ioane, Joe Tomane, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Christian Lealiifano, Berrick Barnes, James O'Connor, Will Genia.
Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Dave Dennis, Ben Mowen, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Sitaleki Timani, James Slipper, Ben Alexander, Benn Robinson, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Saia Faingaa.
* Six more players will be added on 10 June
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