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Rocky's rusty return

Rocky Elsom

Australia captain Rocky Elsom is hoping he can go the distance against Samoa on Sunday despite having managed just one Super Rugby appearance since his side's last Test against France in November.

Elsom was plagued by a hamstring complaint for the first 13 weeks of the provincial season and suffered an ankle injury in his comeback match against the Western Force seven weeks ago.

"I'm pretty happy to be back," he said. "Obviously I've had a couple of long breaks there and I'm just really enjoying training with the team rather than by myself. I've always been progressing well. In my head I think I've prepared pretty well considering the injury."

The 28-year-old reckons he has recovered fully from both ailments and is looking forward to a full 80-minute run-out.

"My hamstring was fine when I went back to play for the Brumbies so I can only imagine that it's stronger since then," he said. "It's funny. Sometimes you're in the middle of a long season and you feel fresh as a daisy and sometimes you don't - it's just the way it goes but I'm pretty excited about getting back into it."

Coach Robbie Deans was more conservative when asked if Elsom was back to full fitness.

"Well he's fit and available, so you can call it 100% if you like but from a rugby perspective obviously it's not (100%)," Deans said. "He doesn't have rugby conditioning but it's good that he's able to get started and we'll just respond to what we see in terms of within the game and go from there."

The imposing flanker will lead an under-strength line-up missing nine regular starters at ANZ Stadium. Deans has opted to rest Reds skipper James Horwill and star playmaker Quade Cooper, while Will Genia, Beau Robinson and Scott Higginbotham will start the match off the bench.

Winger Digby Ioane is the only member of the Super 15 champion Reds side who will start the game. Reigning John Eales medallist David Pocock will miss with a minor foot injury allowing his Force team-mate Matt Hodgson to make his run-on debut.

Melbourne Rebels half-back Nick Phipps and Waratahs lock Sitaleki Timani will both play their maiden Test match, while veteran full-back Mark Gerrard will make his first international start in four years.