Wallabies reveal Larkham’s ‘replacement’

The struggling Waratahs’ utility back Sam Norton-Knight is being groomed as Stephen Larkham’s successor, or so it seems.

Wallaby coach John Connolly, along with fellow selectors Scott Johnson and Michael O’Connor, on Sunday named 37 players to participate in a three-day training camp in Sydney, starting Tuesday, 15 May.

However, it was revealed that Norton-Knight will start in the number 10 jersey when the Wallabies face Wales in the first of their mid-year internationals later this month.

The decision to start with Norton-Knight is partly to “manage” Larkham in the build-up to the World Cup in France – which starts in September – and partly to find a suitable back-up/successor for the veteran fly-half.

The Australian media reported on Sunday that Norton-Knight, who was almost dropped by the Waratahs midway through the Super 14 season as they stumbled from one defeat to the next in an eight-match losing streak, is set to debut against Wales at Telstra Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday 26 May.

Along with Larkham and Berrick Barnes, he was one of three fly-halves named in a 37-man Wallabies squad to enter a three-day training camp in Sydney on Tuesday.

National selectors overlooked exciting teenagers Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale, preferring to groom them for the future, beyond September’s World Cup, through Australia A’s Pacific Nations Cup campaign.

It seems Norton-Knight has a spot sealed in Australia’s 30-man squad, to be announced next weekend, ahead of a two-Test series against Wales – May 26 in Sydney and a week later in Brisbane.

“Managing Stephen Larkham is a major issue for us,” Connolly told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

“We have seven Tests to the World Cup and everyone in rugby realises how important he is and how we manage him through.

“We have to decide who the back-up to Stephen is. Against Wales or Fiji that player will have to get a chance because we can’t afford to get to the quarter-final at the World Cup and then all of a sudden Larkham is not playing.”

Norton-Knight’s Test elevation comes two months after being in the headlines when star teammate Lote Tuqiri shoved him after a “brain explosion” tap kick on full-time against Western Force which cost the Waratahs a match-winning penalty attempt.

First-choice Waratahs scrum-half Josh Valentine is the surprise exclusion from the 37-man squad, with Connolly and his fellow selectors preferring young Waratahs teammate Josh Holmes.

Holmes, who started just one Super 14 match in 2007, was picked alongside George Gregan, the versatile Matt Giteau and returning Red Sam Cordingley who will ramp up his comeback from foot surgery for the Australian ‘A’ team.

Brumbies prop Nick Henderson was also a selection table loser, missing out to Waratah Matt Dunning, who played his most recent Test in November 2005.

Connolly said in a statement on Sunday that places in the final 30-man Wallabies squad – to be announced next Sunday (20 May), are up for grabs during the camp.

“The camp will give us a starting point in our preparation for the first Test against Wales in Sydney on May 26 and will give us the opportunity to have a closer look at a few of the players before we decide on the final squad of 30 next Sunday,” said Connolly.

A 25-man Australia ‘A’ squad for the Pacific Nations Cup will also be announced next Sunday.

Training squad players not invited to the camp in Sydney this week will continue to train in their home states until the announcement of the Wallaby and Australia ‘A’ squads next Sunday.

Wallaby squad: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Al Baxter, Rodney Blake, Mark Chisholm, Sam Cordingley, Ryan Cross, Matt Dunning, Rocky Elsom, Adam Freier, Mark Gerrard, Matt Giteau, George Gregan, Stephen Hoiles, Josh Holmes, James Horwill, Julian Huxley, Digby Ioane, Stephen Larkham, David Lyons, Hugh McMen

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