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McKenzie picks 4 uncapped forwards in extended Australia squad for tests vs France

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SYDNEY - Ewen McKenzie has indicated that Kurtley Beale or Bernard Foley will likely fill the vacancy at flyhalf for the Wallabies by selecting Matt Toomua as a centre in a 32-man squad preparing for three tests against France next month.

Coach McKenzie announced a squad Thursday containing 11 players from New South Wales, 10 from the Brumbies, five from Western Force, two from the Melbourne Rebels and only four from Queensland.

Uncapped locks Sam Carter, Will Skelton and Luke Jones were picked in the absence of Kane Douglas and Sitaleki Timani, while hooker Nathan Charles earned his first selection.

Western Force prop Pek Cowan was a surprise pick ahead of 66-test veteran Benn Robinson.

With Ben Mowen, who replaced James Horwill as captain last season, unavailable after signing a contract to play in Europe, backrowers Scott Higginbotham and Matt Hodgson also forced their way back into the squad.

"It's pleasing to see the quality and depth we have coming through the Australian rugby ranks and I'm confident the squad we've chosen can deliver the outcomes we are looking for throughout the June series," McKenzie said. "We're beginning to create a strong and competitive selection environment, which unfortunately means that some quality players will miss out."

Incumbent flyhalf Quade Cooper will be sidelined for four months after injuring his left shoulder in the Queensland Reds defeat to Melbourne Rebels last weekend, and Waratahs pair Beale and Foley were selected as contenders to fill the crucial playmaking role.

McKenzie also added four players to train the with squad in the build up to the first test on June 7, including Fijian winger Henry Speight, Tom English, Paddy Ryan and Cadeyrn Neville.

Speight won't be eligible to play for Australia until Sept. 11.

"The reality is we have more players performing well than we have space in our squad, so it's important for the coaching staff that we have an opportunity to learn more about some of the players who haven't had as much recent exposure to the national program," McKenzie said.

The captain will be announced after the squad has assembled.

Aside from Cooper, players unavailable for selection included flanker David Pocock (knee), centre Kyle Godwin (knee), scrumhalf Luke Burgess (knee), and outside backs Joe Tomane (cheekbone), Chris Feauai-Sautia (hamstring) and Peter Betham (ankle).

Australia will play France in Brisbane on June 7, in Melbourne on June 14 and in Sydney on June 21 in preparation for the Four Nations Championship against World Cup champion New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.

Squad:

Backs: Israel Folau, Nick Cummins, Adam Ashley-Cooper; Pat McCabe, Rob Horne, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali'ifano, Matt Toomua; Kurtley Beale, Bernard Foley; Will Genia, Nic White, Nick Phipps.

Forwards: Wycliff Palu, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Matt Hodgson, Scott Fardy; James Horwill, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Luke Jones, Sam Carter; Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper, Scott Sio, Pek Cowan; Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nathan Charles.

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