Wallabies ready to bounce back from Bleus blitz

LONDON: Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has defended the character of his side following Australia's ''inexcusable'' loss to France last week.

Deans said he was confident the Wallabies could absorb the double loss of half their second-rowers and hard-running centre Pat McCabe and make amends this weekend for their ''poor'' showing in Paris.

''We've had to overcome some pretty big hurdles, things also haven't been perfect either,'' he said. ''Last week's performance was poor, we're making no excuses about that.''

Deans said questions about the side's character in the wake of a roller-coaster season hurt.

''No one enjoys that,'' he said. ''The team's also shown a lot of character along the way and that's where last week's performance was out of character, inexcusable. We've got to get on with it and address it.''

During the week they needed it most, injuries to Kane Douglas and McCabe, as well as Rob Simmons's suspension, have robbed the Wallabies of solid preparation. They will have only one full training session, plus Friday's captain's run, to work on the new combinations.

Reds centre Ben Tapuai has been moved in to replace McCabe at No.12, with Adam Ashley-Cooper starting in his pet position, outside-centre, after playing on the wing against France. Berrick Barnes will start at fullback, replacing Mike Harris, while Digby Ioane returns to the starting line-up on the wing with Nick Cummins.

Kurtley Beale reprises the playmaking role and Nick Phipps will once again start inside him at halfback, with Brett Sheehan named on the bench. The only changes made in the forwards are Ben Alexander, who replaces Sekope Kepu at tight-head prop, and Sitaleki Timani, who returns to the second row after missing the France Test with a lower-back strain.

Deans named a 5-3 bench, with props James Slipper and Kepu, hooker Stephen Moore, back-rowers Radike Samo and Liam Gill, Sheehan, Drew Mitchell and Harris the back-up in the back line. McCabe was ruled out on Wednesday with neck stiffness, which he sustained during the France Test and aggravated during training.

Deans said the ''best-case scenario'' was a one-match rest for the centre, who has been one of the few consistent presences in the back line recently.

There is also a full-blown second-rowers crisis in the Wallabies after the International Rugby Board handed Simmons an eight-week ban for a lifting tackle on French breakaway Yannick Nyanga. Deans said the ARU had not decided whether it would appeal.

''We're disappointed in the decision but I haven't had the opportunity to read the decision yet and obviously we'll do that before we settle on [whether] that's the end of the matter or not.''

The IRB judicial officer deemed Simmons's tackle to be at the ''high end'' of the scale, so gave an entry point of 12 weeks. Two weeks was added as a ''deterrent'' before six weeks was taken off the penalty for Simmons's ''exemplary previous disciplinary record''.

With a second second-rower, Douglas, already ruled out of Saturday's Test with a knee injury, Simmons's suspension increases the likelihood that Scott Higginbotham will be called into the squad following the end of his two-Test ban this weekend.

''We've maintained contact with Scotty, he continues to train and from the outset was hopeful that it wouldn't be the end of his tour prospects,'' Deans said. ''He's obviously a bloke who would have been here if he hadn't had that setback, so he's high on our list.''

Deans did not rule out calling for two replacements but said it would hinge on Douglas's recovery. ''If the medical staff believe it's marginal that he'll be available to us next week, we'll probably have to act.''

For Saturday's Test, versatile forward Dave Dennis, who will start in the back row, could be moved to the second row to replace Timani or Nathan Sharpe, should the need arise, with Samo to come off the bench at blindside.

''It's more the norm than otherwise and that's the nature of the industry, you have to keep going,'' Deans said. ''Hence we prepare as a squad. Sure we've lost Tuesday's prep in terms of combinations but it's not the end of the world.''

How the Wallabies line up: 15. Berrick Barnes, 14. Digby Ioane, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Ben Tapuai, 11. Nick Cummins, 10. Kurtley Beale, 9. Nick Phipps, 8. Wycliff Palu, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Dave Dennis, 5. Nathan Sharpe, 4. Sitaleki Timani, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1. Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Mike Harris, Drew Mitchell. Kick-off: 1.30am Sunday (Sydney time).

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