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Wallabies skipper Nathan Sharpe available for Spring Tour

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Qantas Wallabies skipper Nathan Sharpe has confirmed his availability for next month's Spring Tour of Europe. The 34-year-old, who has 'postponed' his retirement once already this year, made the decision after a request from Australian Rugby Union Managing Director and CEO John O'Neill and Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

"Sharpey has had an exceptional season and we're delighted he's accepted the invitation to continue what is proving to be a stellar finale to a wonderful career," said Mr O'Neill. "From a playing perspective he's been world-class throughout 2012, and the way he's taken to the leadership in the face of adversity with the side losing three previous captains to injury, has been magnificent.

"Sharpey has brought absolute commitment and dedication to the cause, shown a real sense of purpose and direction, and those assets at this time have been crucial to the Qantas Wallabies.

"For them to finish second in The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship despite the setbacks encountered during the campaign have been a testament to the contribution he made as captain in the back half of the competition.

"We look forward to Sharpey leading the side again in his final Test on Australian soil against the All Blacks in Brisbane on Saturday week and then being part of an exciting four-Test Spring Tour next month."

The foundation skipper of the Western Force in Super Rugby, Sharpe first captained his country in 2004, and reassumed the role during this year's Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship after injuries had ruled out recent skippers James Horwill, David Pocock and Will Genia.

Sharpe led the Wallabies to victories home and away against Argentina and also rallied the side amid great adversity in the match against South Africa at Pretoria.

Last weekend in Rosario, he became Australia's most capped forward, and second most capped player, in his own right by playing his 111th Test match. This took him beyond the 110 caps accumulated by his former team-mate George Smith.

"Playing for Australia is something I have never taken for granted. As such, to be asked to continue beyond the deadline I had set for myself was both flattering but also a request that was very difficult to turn down," Sharpe says.

"I have never known a season where the Wallabies have faced such adversity as we have this year. To show the spirit and character that the team has is a mark of how the group has grown, both individually and collectively, and I have enjoyed playing my part in that.

"The opportunity to lead the Wallabies again on what will be a challenging but exciting tour was too tempting. It is not easy to say no to your country."

Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says the decision to ask Sharpe to continue was logical given the age and experience profile of the group, the fact that some returning senior players would not be ready to return as starters, and the impact that Sharpe had had throughout the year.

"You only have to look at what he has achieved with the group since he took over as captain," Deans says.

"His influence has been immense, he is arguably playing the best rugby of his career but, most importantly, he is enjoying the experience.

"Sharpey's presence and leadership has been a constant throughout the year – one of the few aspects of continuity that we've had through a season that is probably without precedent in terms of disruption.

"For that reason, it was straight forward asking him to continue, both following on from the June Tests when he had originally planned to retire, and then again following The Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.

"While he has a range of other commitments in his life, and touring means putting them on hold again, I had no doubt that he would be keen to continue."

Today's decision means that Sharpe could now complete his illustrious decade-long Test career by playing his 14th Test against Wales; an opponent he has opposed on more occasions than has any other Wallaby.

Australia faces France, England, Italy and Wales on a challenging end-of-year trip after completing the domestic Test season on Saturday week at Suncorp Stadium where the Qantas Wallabies will be attempting to repeat last year's Tri-Nations-title-sealing win over the All Blacks at the ground.

Sharpe's appearance in that match will see him tie the current Australian Rugby Union Board member, and his former Test captain Gregan, as the second most capped player against New Zealand in Tests.

It will be the 27th time that he has faced the haka. Only David Campese, who crossed the All Blacks' path on 29 occasions, has played New Zealand more times.

Sharpe retired from Super Rugby earlier this year having compiled a competition record 162 appearances spread across the Western Force and Queensland Reds.

The Qantas Wallabies assemble in Brisbane on Sunday night ahead of Saturday week's Castrol EDGE Bledisloe Cup Test against the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium. The squad for the game will be named on Saturday.