Tahu dumped, Barnes out

2008-09-09 07:44

Sydney - Ryan Cross, a man his coach describes as a rugby player who dabbled in league, looms as a key figure in Saturday night's Tri-Nations decider after Robbie Deans made five changes to the side thrashed in South Africa.

With Berrick Barnes ruled out due to a shoulder injury, Cross has been thrust into what will be the biggest game of his career in either code since the 2000 NRL grand final, where he played in a losing Sydney Roosters side.

Fellow league recruit Timana Tahu has been dropped from the 22-man squad, although Deans made it clear the former NSW Origin star wasn't a sacrificial lamb after a poor defensive showing in the 53-8 rout at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Cross, a 21-year-old at the Roosters the last time Australia won the Tri-Nations in 2001, will join Stirling Mortlock in a beefed-up centre pairing, while Deans also recalled Nathan Sharpe, George Smith, frontrower Al Baxter and hooker Stephen Moore.

Force flanker Richard Brown will make his international debut from the bench.

Waratahs hooker Adam Freier returns to the squad for the first time since Australia beat France 40-10 at Suncorp in early July, taking the place of dumped rake Tatafu Polota-Nau.

'Grown in stature'

Deans said Cross had earned the right to face the All Blacks in the sold-out blockbuster after maturing rapidly this season.

"You know Ryan pretty well now. You've watched him play and you've seen him thrive. In the time he's had this year he's just grown in stature," Deans said.

"You can never be sure until you expose players to Test rugby (but) he's really grown with each outing.

"He enters this Test knowing he belongs at this level and knowing he's already been very effective at this level.

"He's comfortable in the role play, working alongside Stirling, and he offers us a lot in terms of his presence, both attack and defence."

Deans went to great pains to ensure Tahu wasn't written off as a Wallaby force despite his forgettable showing against the rampant Boks.

"Obviously Timana's the player that misses out. People may attempt to make a lot of that. That's their choice. From our perspective, Timana is going to be here for some time," Deans said.

Damaged shoulder

"He's going to play again for the Wallabies and he's going to play very well for the Wallabies. Obviously he didn't enjoy his last experience. None of us did but that will just fuel him for the next opportunity he gets."

Barnes trained this week but his damaged shoulder just wasn't ready for heavy contact.

There is promising news, however, with MRI scans ruling out the need for surgery and clearing him for the spring tours.

"Berrick obviously isn't right, as much as he would dearly love to be. He's the sort of bloke that if you named him, he'd run out there and play anyway. But it wouldn't have been good for either party," Deans said.

A capacity crowd of 52 500 is assured after a final release of tickets sold out on Tuesday morning.

The winner of the match will take home the Tri-Nations trophy.

Lineups:

Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Ryan Cross, Stirling Mortlock (captain), Lote Tuqiri, Matt Giteau, Sam Cordingley; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Al Baxter, James Horwill, Nathan Sharpe, Rocky Elsom, George Smith, Wycliff Palu. Reserves: Adam Freier, Matt Dunning, Hugh McMeniman, Phil Waugh, Richard Brown, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell.

New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Greg Somerville, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Rodney So'oialo. Reserves: Kevin Mealamu, John Afoa or Neemia Tialata, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava.

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