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Waugh has a foot in each camp in season opener

PHIL Waugh was included in the expanded 29-man squad for Australia's opening four rugby union internationals, then released to play for the Barbarians against the Wallabies.

The 77-test veteran flanker will be allowed to play for the Barbarians against England on May 30 and on June 6 against Australia, but remain part of Australia's expanded squad for two tests against Italy and one against France.

"Phil was keen to play; he'd been invited and earned that honor. We see it as a win-win," Australia coach Robbie Deans said of Waugh's involvement with the Barbarians. "He is getting exposure in two more top class games, and will be going head-to-head with the other flankers in our squad which is a great result for us."

Speculation that Waugh's international career was over have been eroded by his inclusion in the squad, but he'll face fierce competition to make the team after Western Force backrower Matt Hodgson was included in the squad along with George Smith, Richard Brown and David Pocock. Hodgson can cover all three backrow positions, making him a valuable option in the squad, particularly in the absence of No. 8 Wycliff Palu for four weeks with a broken hand.

Stirling Mortlock was retained as captain, while 18-year-old James O'Connor was selected as cover for the centers and at fullback.

Mortlock said it would be "weird" playing against Waugh one week and with him the next.

"It is a bit different but the Baa Baas have that prestige and that history behind them and every way you look at it I think it's going to be an unbelievable fixture," he said, adding that Waugh would rise to the occasion playing against Australia for a change.

"You only have to look at the times where there has been talk about form or what-not and look at how he's performed on the paddock."

Backrower Rocky Elsom, who will play for the Barbarians against Australia, is in negotiations to restore his Australian Rugby Union contract after a stint with Irish club Leinster and could conceivably join the Wallaby squad for the Italy series.

O'Connor had been due to play in the Under 20 World Cup until he was drafted into the senior national squad. Deans said it was to give O'Connor, who became the second youngest Wallaby of all time when he made his debut last year against Italy, more exposure to the top level.

"We would not have contemplated retaining him if we weren't contemplating starting him, it's that simple," Deans said.


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