Lopeti Timani a Wallaby – but only just

Lopeti Timani a Wallaby – but only just

Tonga were banging down the door for Lopeti Timani to play for them but the 124kg powerhouse will become a Wallaby instead after Australia coach Michael Cheika came calling in the nick of time.

Timani will make his international debut from the bench in Saturday night’s Rugby Championship clash with Argentina in Perth.

It continues a proud rugby streak for his family.

His older brothers Sitaleki and Sione also played Test rugby.

Sitaleki notched 18 Tests for the Wallabies between 2011 and 2013, while Sione featured eight times for Tonga between 2008 and 2012.

Wallabies great and current Tonga coach Toutai Kefu had been pushing hard to convince Timani to play for his country of berth.

He was seriously weighing up the offer, with the chance to play for Tonga at the 2019 World Cup a huge attraction.

But the 25-year-old is now intent on carving out a successful Wallabies career after finally being picked to play for his adopted nation.

“Kefu has been trying to talk to me the last five, six months or so,” said Timani, who moved to Australia seven years ago.

“I was happy to play for Tonga.

“I was just waiting for this to see what happened with the Australian Rugby Union.

“If I’m not part of the squad, I’d try and play for Tonga at the end of the year and maybe move overseas at the end of next year’s season.

“Now I’m a Wallaby, so it’s exciting.”

The Tongan-born behemoth, who can play lock or back row, admits feeling nervous ahead of his maiden Test.

He won’t be the only debutant on Saturday night, with prop Tom Robertson also to be unleashed off the bench.

Winger Henry Speight was the unlucky player cut from the extended bench on Friday.

If both Timani and Robertson take the field, it will bring the total number of Wallaby debutants this year to nine.

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore said the squad needed fresh faces following last year’s World Cup and was excited to see Timani and Robertson in action.

“Lopeti’s been in the group now for a few months and he’s really trained the house down and deserves his opportunity,” Moore said.

“Tom had a great season with the Waratahs.

“He’s been juggling his medical studies as well. He’s had the head down all week studying every time he hasn’t been training.

“He’s got a big exam next week. You probably don’t see too much of that these days but it’s great to see it.”

The Wallabies have won 11 of their past 12 matches against Argentina, including their semi-final showdown at last year’s World Cup.

Argentina have promised to turn up the heat on Wallabies playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley.

The duo played a key role in last week’s 23-17 win over South Africa in Brisbane and they’ve been selected once again to fill the important 10-12 roles.

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