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Sharpe left out of Australia squad

Reserve half-back Luke Burgess will make his Australia return in Saturday's Bledisoe Cup clash with New Zealand in Auckland after injury, but veteran lock Nathan Sharpe's World Cup dream is in jeopardy after he was left out of the 24-man touring party.

Burgess returns at the expense of Nick Phipps after recovering from a fractured hand suffered in a freak training accident prior to the Waratahs qualifying semi-final loss against the Blues in June.

But the big surprise is the omission of Nathan Sharpe, who was among the form Australian locks throughout Super Rugby and was a member of the 22 who beat the Springboks nine days ago.

Waratahs duo Dan Vickerman and Sitaleki Timani have both jumped ahead of the Western Force skipper in the pecking order after being named in the squad that will travel to Auckland on Wednesday.

Vickerman, who recently returned from a three-year stint at Cambridge University, has been rewarded for strong performances at club level and is likely to win the bench spot ahead of Timani who made his Test debut against Samoa.

Waratahs winger Lachie Turner is the 24th member of the touring party after some impressive showings for Shute Shield front runners Eastwood.

The Wallabies enter Saturday night's Test level with the All Blacks on five Tri Nations points after both sides easily accounted for the Springboks in their opening matches.

However, Robbie Deans' men face a daunting assignment as they look to end a 25-year Wallabies drought at Eden Park.

Squad: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Quade Cooper, Pek Cowan, Rocky Elsom (c), Anthony Fainga'a, Saia Fainga'a, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, James Horwill, Digby Ioane, Sekope Kepu, Pat McCabe, Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, James O'Connor, David Pocock, Rob Simmons, Sitaleki Timani, Lachie Turner, Dan Vickerman.

Western Force coach Richard Graham expressed his shock at Sharpe's omission from the squad, declaring the veteran remained one of the premier locks in world rugby.

Sharpe was one of the Wallabies' most consistent performers in 2010 and followed up with another strong campaign for the Force this season.

But, after ineffectual performances against Samoa and South Africa, his dream of a third World Cup now appears in serious doubt.

"I certainly am surprised but at the same time I haven't spoken to him and wasn't part of his conversation with the Wallabies selectors," Graham said.

"His non-selection will be something a lot of West Australians will be talking about this morning.

"I thought he played very well for us in Super Rugby and did everything we asked him to do.

"In my view he sits up there in the top three or four locks in the world.

"Certainly in the southern hemisphere we're spoilt in a sense from what we've seen with the likes of (Brad) Thorn, (Victor) Matfield and (Bakkies) Botha - and Sharpe's up there with those guys."

While Sharpe now seems to be on the outer with less than three weeks until the 30-man World Cup squad is announced, Graham says it would be a major mistake to leave the 95-Test veteran at home.

"I think the two young boys that have been selected - (Rob) Simmons and (James) Horwill - were fantastic in Super Rugby. They did a very good job," Graham said.

"And Nathan's form here is well documented. Those three locks going forward into the World Cup would probably be the best three locks in any team in world rugby.

"I think any guy with his experience, his personality - he does want to lead and help people, particularly in a very intense tournament over six or eight weeks - he'll be invaluable.

"World Cup time I'd expect him to be in that squad of 30, but right now having not spoken to him, it's really hard to speculate on the reasons why he's not in the side."

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