Bledisloe tug of war looms for overseas Wallabies

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The ARU may need to get creative to maintain its complement of European Wallabies through the duration of the Rugby Championship.

Four Wallabies have returned from Europe still contracted with overseas clubs underregulation nine, which gives Test teams the right to select players from overseas if they wish.

It only covers the official Rugby Championship window, though, not the final Bledisloe Test.

Michael Cheika has helped European players come home. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWhile all players have been released for the opening two Bledisloe matches on August 20 and 27, for that final Test on October 22, clubs have no obligation to release players for Tests but that far from rules them out.

If players were to stay for that entire duration, the length of their absence would be close to 10 weeks and creeps well into the Top 14 season, which kicks off on August 20.

Both Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell are already believed to be sacrificing chunks of their salaries to be in Wallabies camp and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was quick to note last week that none of the conversations were easy.

Each negotiation is handled individually and none of the returned Wallabies has an identical situation.

Ashley-Cooper has returned from Bordeaux, whose president Laurent Marti lashed out at the ARU in recent weeks, over the situation, given the Wallabies back was signed before ‘Giteau’s Law’ existed.

Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell have sacrificed to be a part of Test . Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyWhen asked whether he was frustrated at having to let his new recruit go back to Australia, he was frank.

"Yes, I'm annoyed. Adam had told me that he would stop playing for the national side. He had the power to say no to his coach and his federation... he should have told me when we were carrying out our negotiations," Marti told Sud-Ouest.

Marti said his frustration also came from their willingness to allow Sekope Kepu to cut short his time in France, though that was under entirely different circumstances.

"I'm mad at the ARU," he said.

"We released Kepu when he still had two years remaining on his contract. We haven't made a fuss about it, or demanded any compensation. They were not very graceful."

Sekope Kepu returrned from Bordeaux for family reasons. Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyAshley-Cooper said he hadn’t looked beyond those first Bledisloe Tests yet, which both come under the Four Nations window, but if it came down to it, his priority would be to win a Bledisloe.

“I just made the decision to come back based on these first two games -  the encounters against the Kiwis which is the Bledisloe.

“My situation's a little bit different to the boys that are heere full-time so I've got to play that on the run but for me my decision was based on achieving a Bledisloe Cup.

“That's something that I've focused on and looked towards for a long period of time now.”

Should the series be evenly poised heading into the final Test in Eden Park, as it was last year after Sydney’s Test, Ashley-Cooper said it would make for an “interesting” conversation with Marti.

“I've only got one ambition this year and that's to raise the Bledisloe Cup,” he said.

“The guys coming back from France, everyone’s individual situation is different and their conversations are going to have to be had on the run with Cheik, the ARU and all the club presidents back home.

“All we're focusing on now is game one and hopefully that's a win.”