Wallabies look beyond French series

The French may be heading for Australian shores but the Wallabies have old foes – the All Blacks and Springboks – very much at the forefront of their thinking.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie pinpointed an ambitious five wins in a row as Australia's immediate short-term goal on Thursday and named a 32-man squad built around achieving that this year.

But he also has one eye focused on preventing another morale-sapping loss to New Zealand or South Africa. 

The Wallabies ended McKenzie's first season in charge with a four-game winning streak in Europe but three painful losses to the All Blacks and Springboks preceding that still sting.

Describing the five losses as a "completely thorough investigation" of their game plan, McKenzie said Australia would be treating next month's series against France as a time to bed down the side's identity.

"We'll concentrate a lot on how we want to go about things in this series and that's not being disrespectful to the French, that's just what we need to do," he said.

"We do have some tactical opportunities [against the French], we have a game plan already that we've developed, but the best thing we can do as a team is be consistent and hopefully consistently winning.

"That's going to be the best platform for playing the Springboks or the All Blacks, going in there with confidence."

Evidence of that are the four uncapped players – all in the tight five – named on Wednesday, down from 12 Test rookies in McKenzie's first season.

The Waratahs' towering second-rower Will Skelton, a raw but exciting prospect, joins Rebels bolter Luke Jones and the Brumbies' Sam Carter, with Nathan Charles from the Force named as the third hooker behind experienced candidates Tatafu Polota-Nau and Stephen Moore.

After injury robbed McKenzie of his go-to five-eighth Quade Cooper, the former Waratahs coach turned to the player he blooded at provincial level back in 2007, Kurtley Beale.

Beale was specifically named as a No.10 alongside NSW teammate Bernard Foley, who scored a try on debut against Argentina last year.

Brumbies five-eighth Matt Toomua was pointedly listed as a centre option along with Christian Leali'ifano and incumbent No.13 Tevita Kuridrani.

A rejuvenated Rob Horne and Pat McCabe also made the list, among 11 Waratahs and 10 Brumbies named in the squad.

But the number of Reds players more than halved, down from nine in McKenzie's first squad last year, to four on Wednesday.

Prop James Slipper, halfback Will Genia and second-rowers James Horwill and Rob Simmons were the only players included, a reflection of the shocking season performance of the 2011 Super Rugby title winners.

Liam Gill, Mike Harris and Saia Fainga'a were glaring omissions, while winger Chris Feauai-Sautia was ruled out of contention through injury.

"Belief and confidence is a very important part in the psychology of the game and you can see that now with the Reds," McKenzie said. "You don't become a bad player overnight but confidence can be a killer.

"Having said that, when I was at the Waratahs we were in a semi-final, then second last, then made the final, so it can be a yo-yo as well. That's sport and that's what makes it interesting."

McKenzie said defence would be a big focus for the squad this season.

"Our primary focus [last year] was to re-energise in attack so we didn't do too much in defence," he said.

"We'll look back and there were things we didn't get right but it was such a quick start and you get a completely thorough investigation from the Springboks and All Blacks.

"We put all the effort in and we didn't quite get it right but by the end [of the Test season] we did, and that was as much about all being on the same page."

Wallabies squad: Ben Alexander, Pek Cowan, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Nathan Charles, Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sam Carter, James Horwill, Luke Jones, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Scott Fardy, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Wycliff Palu, Will Genia, Nick Phipps, Nic White, Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nick Cummins, Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Pat McCabe

The print version of this story stated Ewen McKenzie was targeting six wins in a row this season. It has been corrected to reflect his short term goal of five in a row on the back of four wins last year.

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