Wallabies are on notice from start
BRISBANE (AAP): The Wallabies' 2006 campaign starts officially today with a new coach, new approach and new-look squad.
But John Connolly believes little has changed since he was appointed as Eddie Jones' replacement in February to get the team back on track for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
At the time Connolly declared only one or two players were guaranteed Test starters and lamented Australia's sub-standard set-piece play after a nightmare end to 2005.
Connolly ensured his 40-man training squad remained on its collective toes during a three-day camp in Sydney by maintaining that all but a couple of spots were still up for grabs.
"I don't think those things have changed, it's very open," he said.
The former Queensland coach, given the Australian job after more than five years in Europe, also denied there was any significant set-piece advancement during the Super 14 despite an increased focus.
While pleased with the physicality of Australian forwards at breakdown, he was disappointed by the way Brumbies and NSW packs wilted under the blowtorch from New Zealand opponents in the last month of Super 14 action.
"Even some of the lineouts in the last couple of weeks, the NSW lineout on the weekend creaked badly under pressure, so I'm not sure how far we've come in those areas," he said.
Connolly, to name a final 33-man squad next Monday, has already shaken a few cages by leaving out 2005 regulars Morgan Turinui, Drew Mitchell, Matt Dunning and David Lyons for this week's camp, as well as giving Jeremy Paul a belated invitation.
Among the surprise inclusions are Australian under-19 halfback Josh Holmes, Brumbies third-string scrumhalf Luke Burgess and Force inside back Lachlan MacKay, with just 40 minutes play under his belt since recovering from a serious knee injury.
The camp, as much for organisational purposes as training, began yesterday with meetings at Sydney's Intercontinental Hotel.
For Connolly - as well as assistant coaches Michael Foley and Scott Johnson - it's also a "get-to-know-you" exercise as he has only coached Chris Latham, Sam Cordingley, Nathan Sharpe and Ben Tune of that group.