Australia playmaker Matt Giteau admits he and Toulon teammate Drew Mitchell are “very thankful” for a reprieve in Australian selection rules regarding overseas-based players.
The 32-year-old Giteau, an international exile for the last four years but in arguably the form of his life for three-time European Cup champions Toulon, was controversially axed from the 2011 World Cup squad by then-coach Robbie Deans.
However, an easing of eligibility rules regarding overseas players by the Australian Rugby Union has paved the way for his and Mitchell’s return to the green and gold jersey.
“It’s a big issue for us, but now it’s been done,” Giteau said of the decision to relax the selection policy.
“We’re here and we’re both very thankful that we’ve been given the opportunity to come back and play for our country and be involved in what’s a massive occasion like the World Cup.
“Our rules have been brought in and we’re very thankful for that.”
Giteau came on as a temporary replacement for Stephen Larkham in the 2003 World Cup final which the Wallabies lost to a last minute drop goal by England’s Jonny Wilkinson in Sydney.
Ironically, Giteau and Mitchell play club rugby with flanker Steffon Armitage, the former European player of the year who is ineligible for England because of their much-criticised policy of not picking overseas-based players.
“I speak with Stef a bit,” Giteau said, chuckling when asked whether the flanker was still at home kicking the furniture.
“Stef’s the type of guy who moves on, he’s focusing on his holidays, putting on a bit of weight, I suppose.”
Assistant coach Nathan Grey, the ex-Wallaby centre, said it was a win-win situation for the team coached by Michael Cheika.
“You want the best 15 (in the run-on team), the best 31 Australians players in the world representing the Wallabies (squad),” Grey said.
“That’s great and it’s exciting to have those guys come back. If they’re available for selection and good enough to get selected then they’re going to get selected, so it’s great for everyone.”
The Wallabies kick off their campaign against Fiji on Wednesday, after the Pacific Islanders play hosts England in the tournament opener on Friday.