League convert Cross gets first start


RUGBY:RUGBY LEAGUE convert Ryan Cross will replace Stirling Mortlock for Saturday's Tri-Nations clash with New Zealand in Sydney.

Mortlock suffered concussion in last Saturday's 16-9 win over South Africa in Perth.

Flanker George Smith will captain the Wallabies in Mortlock's absence, the Australian Rugby Union said yesterday.

Cross (28) has won three caps as a replacement since making the squad for the first Test against France in June, but Saturday's match at Sydney's Olympic stadium will be his first start.

Cross made a big impression when he scored two tries against France in Brisbane after coming on in the second half.

His elevation means a call-up to the bench for another former rugby league man, Timana Tahu.

Tahu (27) switched to union with the New South Waratahs at the start of the year after a successful career during which he played for Parramatta, New South Wales and Australia.

In the only other change to the 22-man squad, lock Dan Vickerman returns after ankle surgery, replacing Queensland's Hugh McMeniman on the bench.

Before his injury, Vickerman was a first-choice lock, but coach Robbie Deans decided to retain Nathan Sharpe and James Horwill in the second row after they excelled against the Springboks.

"Sharpie and James Horwill last week were very good, so we've got combinations going there," Deans said. "Dan will get his opportunity off the bench - he's done very well to be in this situation. He's ahead of the anticipated return time."

Eight of the squad, Cross, Tahu, centre Berrick Barnes, winger Peter Hynes, scrumhalf Luke Burgess, lock James Horwill, prop Benn Robinson and replacement hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, will be facing the Kiwis for the first time.

The Wallabies received a boost yesterday when the All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was ruled out through injury.

AUSTRALIA:A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes, R Cross, B Barnes, L Tuqiri; M Giteau, L Burgess; B Robinson S Moore, A Baxter; J Horwill, N Sharpe; R Elsom, G Smith, W Palu. Replacements: T Polota-Nau, M Dunning, D Vickerman, P W, S Cordingley, T Tahu, D Mitchell.