By far the most youth-inspired squad heading into the competition, Australia have 10 uncapped players heading into the 2013 Rugby Championship.
While the decision to rely so heavily on inexperienced talent is a risky one for Ewen McKenzie, it also shows that the Wallabies' head coach has his sights set on the future of his side.
Factor into matters that the Wallabies’ 40-man training roster has another six stars with fewer than five senior international appearances and it becomes relevant just how young the squad is.
Of the four nations involved in the southern hemisphere tournament, each side has their own influx of youth, but this year’s edition clearly sets Australia apart as having the brightest batch of starlets.
According to the Brisbane Times’ Georgina Robinson, Scott Sio has grown up with New Zealand’s Tony Woodcock as his idol, an unsurprising admission given Woodcock’s pedigree in recent years.
However, the coming weeks will see Sio given his chance to line up opposite the All Blacks' loosehead, although those chances remain slim.
For no matter how impressive Sio was this season in reaching the 2013 Super Rugby final with the Brumbies, the 21-year-old remains an outside bet to start in Sydney’s Rugby Championship opener.
That’s not to say the youngster won’t have some involvement, but the competition’s earlier fixtures might belong to the seasoned veterans.
However, while Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson are clearly superb talents, doubts might still remain over the Wallabies' scrum that Alex Corbisiero found it so easy to impact during the British and Irish Lions tour.
As a result, McKenzie may yet opt for other experimental options at some point in the coming weeks, with Sio, a mobile, former back-row, a firm choice to call upon.
With Quade Cooper being brought back into the Australian fold after not featuring internationally for almost one year, fly-half is a position of great intrigue for the Wallabies this summer.
At this moment in time, the Queensland Red will fight for a starting spot alongside Bernard Foley and another uncapped prospect, Matt Toomua.
With Cooper, the most experienced of the bunch, you know what you get: a flashy presence capable of lighting up almost any pitch, but also an exuberant personality who proved too much for Robbie Deans.
Another option is Toomua, recently coming off his most prominent season with the Brumbies, benefitting massively from the guidance of club coach and former Aussie great, Stephen Larkham.
The 23-year-old will first have to make McKenzie’s shortened squad, but his form at the club level this year has shown that Toomua certainly has the ability to challenge for first-team opportunities.
During the Brumbies’ run to the Super Rugby final, there weren’t many occasions where the playmaker looked out of his depth, giving McKenzie a real headache over just who warrants what kind of playing involvement.
Despite being just 21 years old, it’s quite clear that Michael Hooper will remain a staple of the Australian national side for years to come, having already earned 13 caps in his short career.
Earlier this week, the New South Wales Waratah was named Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year, the first time that one of the club’s players has won the award since Phil Waugh in 2001, per ESPN.
This time last year, an injury to David Pocock meant that Hooper was handed his biggest opportunity in the gold and green of Australia in the inaugural Rugby Championship. The youngster would go on to shine for his side, officially announcing himself to the world as a contender for future stardom.
Twelve months on and Hooper must maintain his record in the competition, this time with a heap of expectation on his shoulders, far from the low profile with which he entered last year’s event.
Likely to feature heavily in the Wallabies’ back row, Hooper’s tireless running and superb work in supporting the break promise to earn him a bigger leadership role in the coming weeks.
With a season of Waratahs' rugby under his belt, the openside flanker is at the opposite end of his career to a man many are hoping he might emulate, George Smith, and is already showing the potential to do just that.
The most experienced of any player going to the Rugby Championship aged 23 or under, it’s sometimes easy to forget James O’Connor is only in the budding stages of his international career.
That being said, the 40-times capped O’Connor has been known to show the most obvious signs of his young age and is already seeing the repercussions in his club career.
Released by the Melbourne Rebels at the end of the Super Rugby season, the utility back is currently without a club and, according to the Courier Mail, will be absent for Australia’s Bledisloe Cup opener after missing a team meeting in July.
Talent isn’t an issue for O’Connor, that much is clear. With Quade Cooper now back as Wallabies No.10, Ewen McKenzie is likely to play the youngster at full-back or centre when he does eventually feature.
Instead, O’Connor’s greatest shortcomings would appear to be more mental, an aspect of superstardom that has inhibited so many sporting professionals before him.
The Herald Sun recently reported Western Force’s Ben McCalman as saying that selfishness must subside from O’Connor’s game if he’s to make a return to his first Super Rugby side, a notion that needs to carry onto the international level if he’s to fulfil his potential.
If any player promises to challenge Michael Hooper for the starting spot at openside flanker, it’s Liam Gill.
Never has there been more of an opportunity for the starlet pair to set the international side alight, with David Pocock injured and George Smith ending his international eligibility by moving to Japan.
Still just 21, Gill has done magnificently to establish himself amongst his older peers, particularly strong at the breakdown and showing an incredible hunger in his defensive game.
Up until now, the back-rower has fallen behind his Waratahs' compatriot in the Wallabies’ pecking order, apparently seen by Robbie Deans as nothing more than an alternative when boasting a fully-fit squad.
However, Gill has the advantage of having worked under McKenzie with the Queensland Reds for the past few years, a factor which promises to see his international playing time soar.
It’s not that he doesn’t deserve it, either, as perhaps Deans was slightly obstructed in his vision of the youngster. That said, the Australian’s new coach is a very familiar face, something that will benefit his game by quite some margin.
UPDATE: August 9, 2013
Unfortunately for the teenager, Chris Feauai-Sautia didn't make McKenzie's final 30-man squad, per the Wallabies' official website, for the Rugby Championship.
It's understandable that the Australia coach might value someone more experienced at this stage, but next year might be Feauai-Sautia's opening with another season of Super Rugby to his name.
---End of Update---
The youngest player in the running to star at the Rugby Championship, Chris Feauai-Sautia will surprise more than a few if he manages to feature at some point in this year’s southern hemisphere tournament, never mind come across a starting place.
At just 19 years of age, there isn’t much to go on for the young winger, other than that his first full season in Super Rugby can be considered a veritable success, especially with Feauai-Sautia still being in his teens.
Originally of Samoan descent, it’s not exactly shocking to hear the words "power," "pace" and "beast" associated with Feauai-Sautia’s name, one of the most imposing young wingers in world rugby right now.
Even in the last few fixtures of the 2012 campaign, the speedster was in prolific form for his club, relishing what few minutes he had and managing to end the season with a handful of tries to his name.
Another youngster who will benefit from the Queensland Reds' bond he shares with McKenzie, the absence of an injured Digby Ioane provides Feauai-Sautia with the slightest of boosts heading into the Rugby Championship, where he’ll look to star as its brightest prodigy.