Four years after being controversially overlooked, Matt Giteau can hardly believe he’s been recalled for a third Rugby World Cup appearance.
Giteau’s selection in Australia’s 31-man squad on Friday was a mere formality after the veteran midfielder confirmed he remained up to the Test rigours during the Rugby Championship.
But after three years in the international wilderness while playing in France, Giteau admitted he thought his Test days were long finished.
They were until the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) relaxed its eligibility rules in May to free up long-serving overseas-based stars like Giteau, winger Drew Mitchell and flanker George Smith to be available for Wallabies selection again.
“I thought that 92 caps was it for me,” said Giteau, who has now played 95 Tests and has the chance to join the magical 100-club during the seven-week tournament.
“To be given an opportunity with the rules changing, it’s been a real surreal six to eight weeks from getting the call to playing the Rugby Championship, to facing the haka, to playing the Springboks.
“To be doing all these things that for the last three years I’ve been watching, yeah, it’s been a real surreal experience.”
Giteau, a member of Australia’s 2003 final team and a fixture for the Wallabies at the 2007 World Cup in France, missed selection for the 2011 edition in New Zealand after falling out with former coach Robbie Deans.
Giteau was left shattered, but the now happily married father of two has long since moved on from his snubbing.
“At the time, I was bitter,” said the 32-year-old.
“But I had no right to be. I’d been given so many great opportunities to represent my country and I probably overlooked and took it for granted.
“Whereas now that I’ve come back, it’s something I really cherish and I’m a little bit more grounded than when I left.”
Giteau received his selection phone call from Australia’s 1991 and 1999 World Cup-winning centre Tim Horan and wasted no time sharing the news with his family.
“It’s huge to have that support,” he said.
“Not just my wife and two kids, but my parents and brother and sister – the guys who were there in 2011 when you miss out – they’re the people who stand by you.
“It’s just a very satisfying moment for my family as well.
“These World Cups don’t come around very often. There’s a massive break in between where anything can happen.
“So to be given an opportunity, you’ve just got to enjoy it.”