Rugby-Timani returns from exile to Australia squad for France test series

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Lock Sitaleki Timani returned to the Wallabies set-up after eight years in self-imposed exile as Australia coach Dave Rennie named a bumper 38-man squad for next month's three-test series against France on Sunday.

Rennie named 11 uncapped players in his squad, which was enlarged to mitigate for the compressed timeframe of the series with three tests in 10 days.

Five of those were in the backline, where stocks have been depleted by injuries to Dane Haylett-Petty, Jordan Petaia and high-profile rugby league convert Suliasi Vunivalu.

Playmaker James O'Connor has recovered from a neck injury to take his place in the squad and flanker Michael Hooper returns from a sabbatical in Japan to captain the side.

"We've picked this squad on form and on potential, and I know the whole group is really excited to get stuck in and push their case for a Wallaby jersey against France," Rennie said.

Timani played the last of his 18 tests against Scotland on the November tour in 2013 before heading off to play club rugby in France for Montpellier and Clermont.

The 34-year-old returned at the end of last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and signed for the Perth-based Western Force, making him eligible to play for his country again.

Matt Philip also returns to bolster the second-row stocks after a short spell in France following his breakout test season last year.

Abrasive New South Wales Waratahs loose forward Lachie Swinton, sent off on debut against the All Blacks last year, was included despite also being shown a red card in the final Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match on Saturday.

His Waratahs team mate Izaia Perese was among the uncapped backs named in the squad despite sustaining a shoulder injury on Saturday.

Melbourne Rebels back Andrew Kellaway and his loose forward club mate Michael Wells were among the more surprising inclusions, along with Perese's centre partner at the Waratahs, Lalakai Foketi.

The France series starts in Sydney on July 7 before matches in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Australia squad:

Backs: Tom Banks, Filipo Daugunu, Lalakai Foketi*, Jake Gordon, Reece Hodge, Len Ikitau*, Andrew Kellaway*, Marika Koroibete, Noah Lolesio, Tate McDermott, Andy Muirhead*, James O'Connor, Hunter Paisami, Izaia Perese*, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Tom Wright.

Forwards: Allan Alaalatoa, Angus Bell, Pone Faamausili*, Michael Hooper (captain), Feleti Kaitu’u*, Rob Leota*, Lachlan Lonergan*, Fraser McReight, Isi Naisarani, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Matt Philip, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Darcy Swain*, Lachie Swinton, Sitaleki Timani, Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Michael Wells*, Harry Wilson.

(* indicates uncapped players)

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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