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Speight edges closer to Wallabies debut

AAP
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Update: 8:36PM Fiji-born wing sensation Henry Speight is being groomed for immediate Wallabies selection once his three-year Test exile ends in September.

After inviting Speight into national camp on an "informal" basis during Australia's three-Test series against France in June, Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie on Wednesday named the in-form Brumbies flyer in his 32-man squad for the Rugby Championship.

Despite being unavailable for the opening half of Australia's campaign, including the first two Bledisloe Cup matches, Speight is one of two specialist wingers in the squad.

Under IRB rules, the 26-year-old won't be eligible to play for the Wallabies until September 11, but that hasn't stopped McKenzie initiating the excitement machine.

"There's no reason he can't be involved in the preparation, getting to know what we're about and getting him to know the intricacies of that and get him ready for eligibility to be picked," he said.

"We think he's been in good form and he's going to become eligible."

McKenzie said Speight's speed and tackle-busting ability was a timely compensator for the loss of cult hero Nick Cummins, who has signed a lucrative deal to play in Japan later this year after featuring in all three Tests against Les Bleus.

"You don't like to lose any players but that happens and circumstances are very different," McKenzie said.

"We're also confident there's players arriving too and this is probably as good an example as you get - obviously a crowd favourite in Nick Cummins departing but also a really interesting guy coming through as well in Henry Speight.

"I didn't know much about him until June and I was very impressed with him on and off the field, given he wasn't formally involved.

"He was a great contributor and he's got a great mind for the game."

Injured halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper have been left out of the squad, but McKenzie remains hopeful they will feature at the back end of the Rugby Championship.

Genia may well be available to return from ankle surgery in the September 6 clash against South Africa in Perth, while his Queensland Reds halves partner Cooper is further behind in his rehabilitation from hip and shoulder operations.

There's no surprises in McKenzie's squad, captained by Michael Hooper and including 25 players who tasted action in the 3-0 series clean sweep of France.

Melbourne Rebels lock Luke Jones, who debuted in the second Test against Les Bleus, has also been dropped following impressive starting debuts by Sam Carter and Will Skelton.

Brumbies duo Ben Alexander and Joe Tomane have returned from injuries and are strongly in the mix to start in the Bledisloe opener at ANZ Stadium on August 16 when the All Blacks will strive for a world record 18 straight Test victories.

The Wallabies assemble on August 3 for a week-long Bush2Bledisloe regional road trip across Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst and Penrith.

Wallabies squad: Forwards - Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Hanson, Nathan Charles, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper (capt), Matt Hodgson, Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman.

Backs - Nic White, Nick Phipps, Luke Burgess, Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Matt Toomua, Christian Leali'ifano, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Horne, Joe Tomane, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Henry Speight, Pat McCabe, Israel Folau.





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