Wallabies past and present have hailed the ARU’s decision to allow elite overseas-based players to remain in the Test frame a masterstroke as calls grow louder for Matt Giteau and George Smith to return for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Despite potentially losing out on a spot in Australia’s 30-man World Cup squad to Smith, NSW Waratahs captain Dave Dennis believes the dispensation for a select few loyal servants like the 111-Test flanker is a brilliant compromise.
Smith, Giteau and fellow France-based former Wallabies star Drew Mitchell are the only three offshore players who currently meet the strict criteria of having played at least 60 Tests and seven years of professional rugby in Australia.
But there is a raft of Wallabies weighing up their future, including 53-Test playmaker Quade Cooper and 45-Test flanker David Pocock, who might opt to stick around in Australia for another year to secure the long-service gold card back into the Wallabies while enjoying life in Europe or Japan.
“They’ve obviously been pretty smart about where they’ve drawn the line in terms of Tests and years of service,” Dennis said on Thursday.
“Initially, there’s only a select few but, over time, it will allow more a bit more flexibility in terms of where they play their rugby.
“And maybe it will invite guys who are around that 40 or 50 mark who are overseas to come back to Super Rugby and try to fall into that category.
“It’s not going to be open slather but it will allow for those top-end players to come back and contribute to Australian rugby, which is really positive.”
Wallabies vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper is another major beneficiary of the ARU’s dramatic shift in its selection policy.
The 104-Test stalwart had been resigned to 2015, and hopefully the Rugby World Cup, being his international swan song.
But the 31-year-old is now chuffed to have the best of both worlds, finishing his career in France with his partner and near his great mates Giteau and Mitchell, while also being able to carry on wearing the Wallabies gold, if his form continues to warrant selection.
“It’s win-win,” Ashley-Cooper said on Thursday.
More immediately, Dennis said the policy change could be gold for Australia.
He joined former Wallaby captains Stirling Mortlock and Phil Waugh in backing Smith and Giteau to slot straight back into the Test side should coach Michael Cheika call on the veterans for the Rugby Championship and/or World Cup in Britain.
“Both those players are capable of playing international football. They’ve proven in the past,” Dennis said.
“I’ve heard good reports of both of them playing well over there and they’re professional players who have always performed well.”
ACTIVE AUSTRALIAN PLAYERS WITH MORE THAN 60 TEST CAPS:
* George Smith (Lyon) – 111
* Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs bound for Bordeaux) – 104
* Matt Giteau (Toulon) – 92
* Stephen Moore (Brumbies) – 92
* Ben Alexander (Brumbies and off contract) – 72
* Benn Robinson (Waratahs) – 72
* Drew Mitchell (Toulon) – 63
* James Slipper (Queensland Reds and off contract) – 63 ***
OVERSEAS-BOUND AUSTRALIAN PLAYERS WHO COULD PASS 60 TESTS IN 2015:
* Will Genia (Reds bound for Stade Francais) – 58
* James Horwill (Reds bound for London Harlequins) – 58
* Wycliff Palu (Waratahs bound for Japan) – 54
* Quade Cooper (Reds reportedly bound for Toulon) – 53
* Sekope Kepu (Waratahs bound for Bordeaux) – 52
AUSTRALIA-BASED PLAYERS WHO COULD PASS 60 TESTS IN 2015:
* Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs) – 50
* Rob Simmons (Reds and off contract) – 50
* Kurtley Beale (Waratahs and off contract) – 49
*** denotes needs to play in Australia in 2016 to meet criteria of having held a contract in Australian rugby for seven seasons after debuting for the Reds and Wallabies in 2010.