VETERAN LOCK James Horwill and scrum-half Nic White were the big omissions this morning as southern hemisphere champions Australia named their 31-man squad to tackle a challenging group at next month’s Rugby World Cup.

Horwill captained the Wallabies at the last World Cup in New Zealand but was a high-profile casualty with Kane Douglas returning as one of four second-rowers in the line-up, alongside Dean Mumm, Rob Simmons and Will Skelton.

Coach Michael Cheika phoned Horwill on Thursday evening to break the news and have what he called “a very difficult conversation”.

“In credit to James, and to the other players who missed out, his response was brilliant, even feeling for me making that quite difficult call,” he said.

Cheika also overlooked scrum-half White, despite his match-winning performance in the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup Test victory against the All Blacks in Sydney this month.

He instead went with just two specialist scrum-halves in Nick Phipps and Will Genia, with experienced utility Matt Giteau as back-up.

Cheika also opted to go with only two specialist hookers in Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau, while keeping faith with mercurial fly-half Quade Cooper despite an off-key performance in last week’s 41-13 loss to New Zealand in Auckland.

Prop Toby Smith and flanker Sean McMahon were surprise inclusions, despite not featuring during the 2015 international season so far, in a squad led by Moore and comprising 17 forwards and 14 backs for the tournament in England from September 18 to October 31.

– Dreams of victory –

“We’ve become a really tight group and it was a very difficult process in picking only 31 players, but I know each player selected will travel to England with the full support of those team-mates who won’t board the flight,” said Cheika.

“It’s also important that we select a squad that will handle the tournament play and our draw in particular at the Rugby World Cup, as well as maintain a strong competition for places in the team.”

He added that the goal was to bring the World Cup back to Australia.

“It’s very clear we are not going into the World Cup as the world’s best but the goal is to leave as the world’s best,” he said.

The Wallabies, who are in a tough World Cup Group A which includes hosts England and Wales, head to the United States for a training camp pre-tournament and a final warm-up Test against the USA in Chicago on September 5.

They open their World Cup campaign against Fiji in Cardiff on September 23 before tackling Uruguay, Wales and England and must finish in the top two to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Moore said being appointed captain was “a huge opportunity and a big honour” and he was relishing the task ahead.

“The World Cup is the pinnacle of our game. Fiji are looking good so we’ll have to be on our game right from the start,” he added.

“You do definitely (dream of winning the World Cup) that’s the goal obviously.”

Backs: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Henry Speight, Joe Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Nick Phipps.

Forwards: Wycliff Palu, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman, Sean McMahon, Scott Fardy, Kane Douglas, Dean Mumm, Rob Simmons, Will Skelton, Stephen Moore (capt), Tatafu Polota-Nau, Greg Holmes, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Toby Smith.

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