Houston making up for lost time

Leroy Houston would have gladly spent the rest of his rugby career in Bath, enjoying the fruits of life as a local hero, wondering what might have been if things worked out differently back home.

Then Wallabies coach Michael Cheika left a message on his voicemail one day.

“I was shocked, so I rang him straight away,” Houston said on Monday.

“The phone was stumbling out of my hands and everything.

“Nice man, hey – very calm and collected.

“He knows what he wants and has a vision for the Wallabies. I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Cheika has been known to pull the odd selection swifty, but he’s outdone himself with Houston.

The bubbly back-rower first made headlines when Eddie Jones, of all people, picked him as a promising 18-year-old for Australia’s 2005 tour of Europe.

At that stage Houston was yet to play a Super Rugby game – and by the time he’d played his last, before his move to France at the end of 2011, he had been written off as a butterfingers whose potential would be never realised.

But after a cracking three-year stint with Bath, where he emerged as one of the Premiership’s most damaging ballrunners, Cheika decided to throw him a lifeline.

Houston initially thought Cheika just wanted him back home playing for the Reds, where he admits he still has unfinished business.

“But when he waved the carrot in front of my face, saying you will be a part of the Wallaby squad, I just dropped everything,” he said.

“It’s surreal. I’m still pinching myself. I’m tired, excited, a bit scared to be honest, to see if I can match it with these top athletes.

“It was just cool to be back on the radar and for the Wallabies to show interest.”

Houston says he is a specialist No.8, meaning he will probably have to unseat David Pocock if he is to make his first Wallabies appearance in next month’s Test series opener against England at Suncorp Stadium.

“I saw the World Cup and thought ‘how am I going to fit in here?'” he said.

“Cheika just said he’d give me the chance … that’s what I love about him. Come out and try and force your way into this backrow of All Star players.

“Hopefully it brings the best out of me.”

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