Sharpe to notch up century in decider
AUCKLAND, 19 Oct. - Second row Nathan Sharpe will become the fifth Wallaby to collect 100 international caps after being named in Australia's starting line-up in the battle for bronze against Wales at Eden Park on Friday.
Sharpe’s return at the expense of injured Dan Vickerman is one of eight changes made by coach Robbie Deans to the XV that took the field for the semi-final against the All Blacks.
Deans had nothing but praise when asked about the qualities that the 32-year-old brought to the Australia team.
"He's a class act, Sharpie, good bloke to have in the group,” Deans said.
“He's got a huge amount of respect from his peers. He's a master of the lineout and he does a lot of work not only in game but in preparation.”
Deans said that along with the recently-retired Springbok second row Victor Matfield, Sharpe could be considered one of the best lineout exponents to play international rugby over the last decade.
New-look front row
Joining Sharpe in Australia’s starting XV are full back Kurtley Beale, who has recovered from a hamstring strain, and a new-look front row in the form of James Slipper, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Salesi Ma’afu.
Berrick Barnes has been given a shot at inside centre, with Adam Ashley-Cooper joining him at outside centre after being relieved of his temporary full back duties.
While some commentators were calling for Barnes’ inclusion earlier in the tournament, Deans remained adamant that the third-place decider was the right time for the 25-year-old playmaker to force his way back into the Australia team.
"Berrick is working his way back to full confidence and playing well,” he said.
“We just felt for this week he warranted a bit more of a dig. He played half the game last week and in terms of the options that we had, we felt he was best equipped."
Much has been made of Sharpe’s approaching century but the second row insists he is not as concerned with that milestone as he is about ensuring that the Wallabies finish their World Cup campaign with a performance to be proud of.
“I think just the opportunity to play this weekend against Wales, in a very important game for Australian rugby, is something I’m very excited about,” he said.
“This game, whilst in previous years people talk about it being a throw-away game, this is going to be a full-on Test match, which it should be because we’re representing our country.”
Competing at his third RWC, Sharpe believes the game of rugby has become a more physically demanding sport since his international debut against France in 2002.
"It's far fiercer at the tackle contest now,” he said. “There was a time when there was only one or two blokes who competed for the ball or who put pressure on the breakdown. Now you've got 15 guys, every time you go into a tackle, putting pressure on that ball.
"The collision rate is going well through the roof in terms of that physical element of the game."
The game may be an ever-increasing test of his physical abilities but Sharpe has no intention of following Matfield into retirement just yet.
Beyond the World Cup the bald-headed forward is committed to returning to his post as captain of Western Force for the 2012 Super Rugby season.
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