8th August 2007, 7:00 WST


The new Australian Rugby Championship will be a sprint rather than a marathon and Perth Spirit yesterday picked five Wallabies to get out of the blocks quickly on Friday.

The Spirit host the Western Sydney Rams at Members Equity Stadium in round one of the sorely needed eightteam national competition, which will implement new laws to speed up play.

Spirit coach John Mulvihill selected a speedy side for an expected highscoring, full-throttle contest containing considerably fewer scrums and line-outs than fans are accustomed to.

“We’ve had half the number of set pieces in our two practice matches compared to a Super 14 game,” Mulvihill said.

“Free kicks are now the most common way to start play so the game is less structured.”

Penalties at the breakdown have been limited to three offences — offside, lying on the ball and not entering through the “gate”.

Scrum offences mostly yield free kicks and the offside line has been moved back 5m from the base of the scrum, giving attacking sides more time and space.

“Free kicks and quick line-out throws make the game a lot faster,” said Test player Cameron Shepherd, who will revert to his preferred fullback position on Friday.

Matt Henjak, Tai McIsaac, Scott Fava and Lachlan MacKay are the others to have worn a Wallabies jersey.

MacKay’s two seasons in Perth have yielded minimal time on the field. He wrecked a knee in the first half of the Force’s first Super 14 match last year and his undercarriage has needed constant servicing since. He survived intact a half in each of the Spirit’s two preparatory matches and Shepherd said he would have an increasing influence throughout the season.

“It’s like getting a big-name signing,” he said of MacKay’s availability. “He’s an amazing player.”
Perth Spirit: Cameron Shepherd, Nick Cummins, Ryan Cross, Junior Pelesasa, Ratu Siganiyavi; Jimmy Hilgendorf, Matt Henjak; Richard Brown, David Pocock, Scott Fava, Sitaleki Timani, Tom Hockings, AJ Whalley, Tai McIsaac, Pek Cowan. Reserves: Luke Holmes, Troy Takiari, Scott Fardy, Will Brock, James Stannard, Scott Daruda, Lachlan MacKay.
Western Sydney Rams: Kurtley Beale, Ben Martin, Lachlan Mitchell, Chris Siale, Lachlan Turner, Fa’atonu Fili; Josh Holmes; Tom Egan, Hugh Perrett, Gareth Palamo, Ben Hand, Van Humphries, James Lakepa, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Ben Roberts, Aaron Broughton-Rouse, Marty Wilson, Mark Howell, Dave Rimmer, Filipo Toala, Ben Coridas.