Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is set to call his overseas-based stars back for next month’s three-Test series with England in retaliation to Europe’s latest raid on Australia’s rugby talent.
Cheika is furious that Wasps have lured Kurtley Beale to England on a $2.96 million, two-year deal that will make the 27-year-old backline ace among the highest-paid players in the world.
Beale’s impending departure at the end of the Super Rugby season continues an alarming exodus of Wallabies to cashed-up clubs in Europe and Japan.
The player drain has become so extensive that a formidable Wallabies line-up could be made up entirely of players based in the northern hemisphere.
Consider this starting team of players currently playing for foreign clubs or set to join one:
Kurtley Beale (Wasps), Drew Mitchell (Toulon), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Bordeaux), Matt Giteau (Toulon), James O’Connor (Toulon), Quade Cooper (Toulon), Will Genia (Stade Francais); Scott Higginbotham (NEC Green Rockets), George Smith (Wasps), James Horwill (Harlequins), Ben Mowen (Montpellier), Liam Gill (Toulon), Sekope Kepu (Bordeaux), John Ulugia (Clermont), Salesi Ma’afu (Toulon).
And that still leaves the likes of Digby Ioane (Stade Francias), Matt Toomua (Leicester Tigers), Berrick Barnes (Panasonic Wild Knights) and Nic White (Montpellier) for the bench.
Of that notional starting XV, only O’Connor, Cooper, Gill, Higginbotham, Mowen, Ulugia and Ma’afu are ineligible for Test rugby and Cheika plans on taking full advantage of the “Giteau Law” he prompted the ARU to introduce last year.
Cheika earlier this month indicated he was likely to rest the likes of World Cup stars Giteau, Mitchell and Ashley-Cooper from the England series in June before considering them for the Rugby Championship.
But he’s now expected to do a U-turn and bring his Europe-based World Cup finalists back to Australia next month, if fit, in a hardline stance he hopes will prompt rich overseas clubs to have a rethink about shelling out big money for Australia’s elite talents.
World Rugby regulations demand that clubs release players for Test duty, while Cheika is also understood to be pushing to have offshore-based stars also return for three week-long camps a year.