English rugby’s last NRL import may have fizzled but Eddie Jones is confident Ben Te’o has what it takes to be a Test player.
Former Brisbane and South Sydney player Te’o landed in Australia on Thursday as part of Jones’ England squad for the three-Test series against the Wallabies.
The last man to don the Red Rose after a switch from the NRL was Sam Burgess – a former Rabbitohs teammate of Te’o – whose performances as a makeshift centre during last year’s World Cup led to him becoming a scapegoat for the hosts’ shock pool stage exit.
Burgess had only one season in rugby union before the World Cup and wasn’t helped by playing his club rugby in the forwards.
Also a league forward converted to a rugby centre, Te’o has played almost 50 matches of club rugby in Ireland and England to learn his new trade on his way to an international call-up.
Jones, who coached successful Wallabies rugby league converts Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Matt Rogers during his time at the helm of Australia, says Te’o is capable of making the step up.
“Having coached a lot of rugby league guys and knowing that if you can play State of Origin successfully you can be successful in Test rugby, he’s got the pedigree to be successful, so that’s one thing,” Jones said.
“Secondly he’s got a skills set that’s very suited to playing 12 in international rugby.
“He can take the ball through the line. He can pass the ball before the line. He’s a very good, strong and robust defender.”
Jones’s words seem to suggest the 29-year-old is a big chance to make his Test debut against the Wallabies at Suncorp Stadium in the opening Test on June 11.
The former Queensland State of Origin representative may well be familiar with the surroundings but his selection would surely be a gamble in the vital first match of a three-game series.
“He’s got to practice yet. He hasn’t trained with us,” said Jones when pushed on Te’o’s chances of a debut.