Seven St.George Queensland Reds representatives have been rewarded with selection in the Australia Rugby Union’s initial 25-man Test squad for their upcoming three-game series against The British and Irish Lions in June.
The announcement of the Wallabies squad on Sunday sees the Reds supply five forwards and two backs and includes prop James Slipper, hooker Saia Faingaa, locks James Horwill and Rob Simmons, flanker Liam Gill, scrumhalf Will Genia and winger Digby Ioane.
The seven players have all been capped at a national level and have continued their strong form throughout the 2013 Super Rugby season for the Reds, who are sitting just two competition points behind the Australian Conference leading ACT Brumbies.
The group has a combined 193 Test caps to their name with Reds leaders Horwill and Genia both having captained their state and country on numerous occasions during the past two years.
There is still an opportunity for remaining members of the Reds to push their way into the selection frame with six more players to be added to the Wallabies squad on June 11.
Before then, the Reds will play Super Rugby matches against the Stormers in Cape Town and Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium before also hosting a historic tour match against The British and Irish Lions on June 8.
Reds Director of Coaching Ewen McKenzie congratulated the seven players on their selection.
“Most players only get one opportunity in their careers to play in a British and Irish Lions series, so congratulations to the seven Queensland Reds players who have been chosen in the initial 25-man squad,” McKenzie said.
“It is a huge honour anytime you get to represent your country, especially against the Lions, and I’ve got no doubt the seven players chosen will do Australia proud across the three-game series in June.
“There is still a lot of Rugby to be played before then and a further six players to be added to the squad, so you would expect there would be plenty of motivation amongst the group to continue performing in our remaining two Super Rugby games before the June Test break.”
For Horwill, who captained Australia for the first time in their historic Tri Nations triumph at Suncorp Stadium two years ago, it will be the first time he has pulled on the green and gold jersey since Australia beat Wales in Cardiff in 2011 after being cruelly struck down by injury just one game prior to the June Test window last year.
With Horwill sidelined, fellow Reds teammate Genia stepped up to fill the captaincy duties in 2012 before he too had his season ended early after tearing his ACL against South Africa in Perth in September.
The pair have been influential to the Reds success in 2013 with their recent loss to the Cheetahs Queensland’s only defeat in games both Horwill and Genia have participated in this year.
2012 Pilecki Medal winner James Slipper is another to have taken his game to another level this season and joins teammate Saia Faingaa in a Wallabies front-row set for a highly-anticipated battle against the vaunted Lions forward pack.
Lineout general Rob Simmons has combined expertly with Horwill in the second-row throughout the 2013 season and will be determined to build on that combination and experience at Test level, where he has accumulated 23 caps since his debut against South Africa in 2011, when the Lions visit Australia for the first time since 2001.
Former Australian Under 20s captain Liam Gill continues his meteoric rise as one of two openside flankers chosen in the squad, coming less than a year after he made his Test debut against the All Blacks in Auckland in 2012.
Ioane remains one of the world’s most dangerous wingers and his form in 2013 and across 34 tests dating back to his debut in 2007 against Wales sees his join Genia as one of just two Queensland backs chosen in the initial squad.