The Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has said Australia will review its selection policy at the end of the year after the fly-half Quade Cooper joined centre Samu Kerevi and back rower Sean McMahon in opting out of the tour of Britain.
Rennie confirmed on Thursday that Cooper had become the third of the Japan-based trio to choose club over country after playing for the Wallabies during the Rugby Championship.
The loss of Cooper and Kerevi, particularly, is a huge blow for the side ahead of November Tests against Scotland, England and Wales. The pair were pivotal in helping the Wallabies’ win five tests in succession.
Rennie was given Rugby Australia’s blessing to pick overseas-based players in his squad, a departure from the usual policy of limiting selection to those with 60 or more test caps. But with his plans now seriously disrupted, Rennie declined to confirm that he would pick any of the three Japan-based players again.
“Ideally we want guys who are desperate to be Wallabies,” he said on Thursday. “Obviously this was a bit of a trial based on Covid, based on a few other plans we had, to utilise more players overseas. I guess we’ll have a look at the end of the tour and then get a plan around what that looks like beyond this year.
“So, we’ll have discussions with the board, we*ll work out what that looks like going forward. I can’t answer other than that.”
The three players were free to leave their clubs to join the Wallabies for the international window because the November tests are scheduled during the clubs’ offseason. While Rennie was reluctant to criticise the players, he said they had told him during the Rugby Championship they were keen to tour Britain.
“All I’ll say is that the players felt that the clubs wanted them to be there in an important period … heading into their pre-season,” he said. “The players felt compelled to stay.”
Rennie will look to James O’Connor to take back the No 10 shirt he wore last season before injury struck this year.
The young fly-half Noah Lolesio, who was dropped in favour of Cooper for the last four matches of this year’s Rugby Championship, will fly from Australia to join the squad ahead of the Test against Scotland at Murrayfield on 7 November.
Rennie said he would name more replacements in coming days for Kerevi, McMahon and injured utility back Reece Hodge, confirming the France-based centre Duncan Paia’aua was among those under consideration.