* Four uncapped players in Wallabies squad
* No place for Robinson, Gill, Dennis
By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY, May 22 (Reuters) - Australia coach Ewen McKenzie has included uncapped locks Will Skelton, Luke Jones and Sam Carter in his squad for the three-test series against France in June.
Along with hooker Nathan Charles, the trio are the only players in the 32-man squad without test match experience after two years in which injury has forced the Wallabies to blood a wide group of players.
“It’s pleasing to see the quality and depth we have coming through the Australian rugby ranks at the moment and I‘m confident the squad we’ve chosen can deliver the outcomes we are looking for throughout the June series,” McKenzie said.
“We’re beginning to create a strong and competitive selection environment, which unfortunately means that some quality players will miss out.”
In the absence of flyhalf Quade Cooper, who will be out for four months with a shoulder injury, McKenzie listed Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale as his options for playmaker, despite the latter playing at inside centre in Super Rugby this year.
Matt Toomua, who started his first two tests in the number 10 shirt and was expected to step up after Cooper’s injury, was listed as a centre - the designations made for the benefit of “armchair selectors”, McKenzie said.
There was no place in the squad for 66-test prop Benn Robinson, the second time he has been dropped in McKenzie’s short reign, while his New South Wales Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis was also omitted from the back row contingent.
Queensland Reds flanker Liam Gill was left out of the squad after missing a string of Super Rugby matches with injury, while incumbent captain Ben Mowen’s impending departure for France ruled him out.
McKenzie, who said he would name a new captain when the squad assembled in June, said even the players planning to leave Australia at the end of the season were not completely out of the reckoning.
“Those guys are technically eligible for Australia and it doesn’t mean we might not call on them but at the moment the focus is on moving forward and developing our depth,” he said.
Prop Pek Cowan and loose forward Matt Hodgson were included on the back of their part in the Western Force’s surprise Super Rugby success and given the chance to revive their test careers three years after winning their last caps.
It was in the second row, however, that McKenzie was forced into his biggest overhaul.
Kane Douglas was left out after the 14-cap forward announced a move to Ireland and McKenzie has also lost the services of Sitaleki Timani, who moved to France at the end of last season.
The hulking Skelton, who stands 2.03m tall and weighs in at 135kgs, has been impressive form for the New South Wales Waratahs, while Jones, a year senior to Skelton at 23, has stood out for the Melbourne Rebels.
Carter, 24, was probably the most surprising call-up despite forming part of an ACT Brumbies pack that helped the Canberra-based team to last year’s Super Rugby final.
Another lock, Cadeyrn Neville, will train with the Wallabies in the lead up to the first test along with Henry Speight, who does not qualify for Australia until September, his fellow winger Tom English and prop Paddy Ryan.
France open their tour against the Wallabies in Brisbane on June 7 before further tests in Melbourne and Sydney on the following weekends.
Forwards - Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Matt Hodgson, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Sam Carter, Luke Jones, Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper, Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nathan Charles.
Backs - Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali‘ifano, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Nic White, Nick Phipps. (Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Patrick Johnston)