Wallabies squad bolter Leroy Houston was just one of at least 60 overseas-based players who coach Michael Cheika says can be targeted to return to build depth in Australian rugby.
By Cheika’s estimation there are over 120 Australians playing rugby in Europe and Japan – and more than half of those, he believes, are “easily” capable of playing Super Rugby and providing competition for Wallabies spots.
Back-rower Houston well and truly dropped off the Australian radar after leaving the Queensland Reds at the end of 2011, despite excelling in his most reecent three years with English Premiership club Bath.
He is only in line for a shock Wallabies debut in this month’s series against England because Cheika monitored his form, made him a personal visit earlier in the year and convinced him to rejoin the Reds.
It’s a blueprint Cheika used to lure home Kane Douglas and Dean Mumm last year and intends to keep following it in the lead-up to the World Cup in 2019.
“Think about those guys who could be playing back here, and we’re talking about making our team stronger. We have to pick them off one at a time,” he said.
“It’s very clear, we want to build depth and we know that we need to build more depth in the Australian team.
“That will slowly but surely increase the squad side of guys who can do it when the time comes.
“As we build towards 2019, they’re the type of things that will help us be better.”
Cheika said Houston fitted the profile of a player he believes Australia needs more of – a big ball-playing, hard-running, hard-tackling forward with rugby smarts.
“It’s a dream of his to play for Australia, I think he’s on the record as saying that and he wants to fulfil his dream,” he said.
“Now he’s got an opportunity – he’ll need to go up in pace a little bit because obviously it goes up a level, but I’m sure he’ll be ready for that challenge.”