Robbie Deans keeps us guessing with Wallabies squad for Lions Tests
Australia coach Robbie Deans has left the door open for the likes of Quade Cooper to make the final squad to face the British and Irish Lions after the in-form Reds playmaker failed to make the 25-man group.
Deans included three uncapped players in his squad, with code-hopper Israel Folau capping a remarkable rise for the former rugby league international after just 12 Super 15 appearances for the Waratahs since switching from Australian rules football at the start of the season.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen and inside centre Christian Lealiifano were the other new faces in the group.
Deans said: "Today is not the end of it for players who haven't been named. There are six more places to be filled in the squad while every Super Rugby player in Australia will have the opportunity to play international rugby against the Lions during the tour matches, as will the country representative players. It's an exciting time."
Deans said the selection was based on both current Super Rugby form and previous Test background, adding that preparation time for the squad was important.
He said: "That time will be critical. You only have to look back to the experience in 2001, where Australia lost the first Test, to see the consequence of a compromised preparation. We have our own more recent experience of something similar.
"Rod Macqueen (the 2001 Wallabies coach) has since made it clear that despite the build-up they had, which included a warm-up game; they were caught short in that opening game.
"We have to make the most of the limited preparation time we have in place in order to avoid a similar result."
Experienced Brumbies flanker George Smith (knee) and Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (fractured arm) have both been overlooked, opening the door for Reds duo Liam Gill and Saia Fainga'a.
The Australian Rugby Union was prepared to bend the rules for Smith, who is on loan from Japanese club Suntory, to allow the 110-Test veteran to play in his second series against the Lions.
But a suspected medial ligament injury threatens to rule him out of the three-Test series.
There was also no room for former John Eales medallist Kurtley Beale or inside centre Pat McCabe (knee injury), with Waratahs midfielder Rob Horne getting the nod in a selection surprise.
Waratahs playmaker Berrick Barnes made the cut after two impressive performances off the bench upon return from injury, while winger Nick Cummins was the only Western Force player included.
But Cooper's non-selection will be the major talking point in the coming days.
Rebels utility James O'Connor is considered the man most likely to wear the number 10 shirt in the first Test in Brisbane on June 22, while Barnes and Lealiifano are also options.
However, Cooper can still play his way into the Wallabies squad, with a further six players to be added on June 11.
The 38-Test fly-half still has two Super 15 games and the Reds v Lions midweek fixture to impress selectors before the final 31 are chosen.
Beale could also be a late inclusion despite checking himself into a rehab clinic to deal with alcohol-related issues on Monday.
The top 25 players will play two more rounds of Super 15 before assembling in camp in Sydney on June 2 to begin preparations for the series opener.
Preliminary Australia 25-man squad: Ben Alexander, Berrick Barnes, Nick Cummins, Dave Dennis, Saia Fainga'a, Israel Folau, Will Genia, Liam Gill, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, James Horwill, Digby Ioane, Sekope Kepu, Christian Lealiifano, Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, James O'Connor, Wycliff Palu, Benn Robinson, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Sitaleki Timani, Joe Tomane.