The development of a transitional Wallabies’ squad is more important than the successful outcome of their six-match overseas tour, skipper Stirling Mortlock said on Monday.
The Wallabies left here Monday for Hong Kong and the first of their tour games against New Zealand in a dead rubber Bledisloe Cup Test next weekend.
The party of 34 players includes five new caps and nine other players with five or fewer Test appearances.
Given the Wallabies’ dismal recent away record, the strength of their northern hemisphere opposition and injuries to key forwards, it was a circumspect Mortlock who emphasised continuing growth and the development of coach Robbie Deans’ squad.
While Mortlock said an unbeaten campaign was not out of the question, he emphasised the tour’s challenges and “significant opportunities”.
“Every week there will be a significant mountain to climb and a new challenge,” Mortlock told reporters.
“In Italy a couple of years ago we found it very difficult to play there and all the matches, looking ahead on this tour, will be quite difficult.
“Obviously, at the end of the day, you want to have a successful tour by your win-and-loss ratio.
“I think in this team there’s a huge amount of guys who haven’t been on many (southern hemisphere) Spring tours, a lot of guys who are in their first and second seasons at Test match level and some uncapped guys as well.
“It’s a great opportunity to blood some of our younger guys and for them to get greater awareness of what they can achieve as a group.
“I think growth is really important on this tour. We’ve come off a Tri-Nations campaign where we went all right, but we weren’t successful, so we know exactly where we want to improve our game.
“If we do that again, that would be good enough in itself and hopefully the by-product of that would be good results.” The Wallabies face five of the world’s top-10 nations plus a star-studded Barbarians side, without established forwards Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman and this season’s discovery James Horwill.
The itinerary includes Tests against Italy and the three highest-ranked northern hemisphere sides, England (fifth), Wales (sixth) and France (seventh), and concludes at Wembley Stadium against the Barbarians.
Mortlock acknowledged that the opening match of the tour would be a challenge because the majority of Wallabies have not played since the final game of the Tri-Nations in Brisbane early last month.
The Australians had four weekly training camps to compensate, while the majority of New Zealand’s stars have stayed match fit over the closing rounds of their domestic competition.
“They will be match-hardened and ready to go, whereas we’ve had an opportunity to regroup as a team and think upon where we want to take our game,” Mortlock said.
“We definitely needed a solid block of work together because realistically it’s pretty hard in the season, you always have a match to focus on.”