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October 10, 2009

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Elsom replaces Mortlock as captain of Wallabies

AUSTRALIA coach Robbie Deans has urged Stirling Mortlock to play on until the 2011 World Cup despite dumping him as captain in favor of Rocky Elsom for the Wallabies' season-ending Grand Slam tour.

Deans named Mortlock in a 35-man squad yesterday for upcoming internationals against New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and said he was hopeful the 32-year-old would commit to the Wallabies beyond next year when his contract expires.

"Stirling and I have had a number of conversations over the last few weeks and at this point, the dialogue has been really encouraging," Deans said in Sydney.

"I believe he can go the distance. We're hopeful that he believes that, but ultimately that will be his call."

Media speculation surrounding Mortlock's captaincy had grown since the 80-cap veteran sustained a serious knee injury during a Tri-Nations test against South Africa in August.

Mortlock, who led the Wallabies for the better part of four seasons, told local media this week he had traveled to Japan while recovering from injury for talks with club Kyuden Voltex and would decide on his long-term future before the end of the year.

Key Leinster role

Elsom's appointment comes only months after returning to the Australian fold from a season-long sojourn in Ireland, where he was lauded for his key role in Leinster's road to the Heineken Cup.

The 26-year-old flanker, sidelined for most of the season with a knee injury, played only four tests before getting the call-up after Australia's doomed Tri-Nations campaign.

"It's a bit like when you get your first jersey, I think, you're over the moon to have that opportunity, but also there's a lot of responsibility that goes with that, but I'm just really happy to get that opportunity," Elsom said.

Flyhalf Berrick Barnes was named as vice-captain of the squad, which includes seven uncapped players, but lock Nathan Sharpe and flanker Phil Waugh were omitted due to injury.

Veteran prop Al Baxter was also left out, signaling Deans' hope that youth will turn the flagging Wallabies' fortunes around.

"This tour provides us with a development opportunity. That is why we have opted to introduce some younger players, as opposed to taking along players whose capabilities we are already aware of," Deans said.

"Clearly players that fall into that category are the likes of Baxter and possibly Waugh."


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