October 26, 2012
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Higginbotham out, Pocock in for Wallabies

Wallabies forward Scott Higginbotham has been dropped from the team's European tour after being suspended for striking All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, but flanker David Pocock returns from injury

Higginbotham was the main casualty in the squad named Thursday after being slapped with a two-match ban over the McCaw incident, which meant he would have missed the first two internationals against France and England.

Coach Robbie Deans said the team could not afford to carry a loose forward who would not be available for the first two weeks of the trip.

"To have included Scott within the 30 would have created an additional challenge in terms of selection for the opening two matches which would have compromised the group," he said.

"Scott was aware once he was suspended that this was a possibility."

Higginbotham pleaded guilty to two counts of striking McCaw with his knee and head in the 26th minute of the Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane on Saturday.

While he misses out, it was better news for Pocock, who has been sidelined for two months following knee surgery. But has not regained the captaincy from senior lock Nathan Sharpe.

Although Sharpe was Australia's fourth-choice skipper this season following a series of injuries, Deans confirmed the 34-year-old second-rower had kept the captaincy following his inspirational leadership in the past four Tests.

He leads a squad on a tour which also includes games against Italy and Wales, starting in France on November 10, featuring just one uncapped player in NSW Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.

Hooker Stephen Moore is also back from injury while Queensland Reds hooker James Hanson, who made his Test debut last weekend, won the third hooking berth ahead of his injured team-mate Saia Fainga'a.

While Fainga'a was expected to recover, Deans said Hanson's recent game time helped to win him the nod.

The fact that Moore was returning, having not played since the Bledisloe Cup Test in Auckland on August 25, also played a part in this decision.

"We had to have absolute certainty around at least two of our hookers," Deans said.

"With Stephen also coming off a period out of the game, we couldn't afford to head away having potential concerns around two of our three hookers."

Although neither Pocock or Moore have recent match fitness, the coach said both had proved their readiness to tour.

"As well as being proven Test performers with valuable experience in the conditions that we will face on this tour, both also provide a significant leadership element which will add to what is still a relatively young group."

Berrick Barnes returns to duty after recovering from the lung injury he suffered against South Africa at Pretoria last month, while Sekope Kepu and Sitaleki Timani are also included.

The squad features an 18-forward, 12-back split, with five props selected to cater for the new arrangements regarding front-row substitutes which requires two props to be included on an eight-man Test reserves bench.

Backs: Nick Phipps, Brett Sheehan, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Pat McCabe, Anthony Fainga'a, Ben Tapuai, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Nick Cummins, Drew Mitchell, Mike Harris.

Forwards: Benn Robinson, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Ben Alexander, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Stephen Moore, James Hanson, Nathan Sharpe (capt), Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons, Dave Dennis, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Liam Gill, Wycliff Palu, Radike Samo

AFP

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