From Byron to Bledisloe: Samu Kerevi's unusual fitness bid

by Iain Payten

Samu Kerevi could return to rugby in a beach-side Sevens competition this weekend in a bid to face the All Blacks in Japan a week later.

After five months on the sideline with a ruptured biceps, Kerevi was named in the Wallabies’ 31-man squad to travel to Tokyo on Saturday ahead of the third Bledisloe Cup clash with New Zealand. 

Other notable inclusions in the squad include Waratahs forwards Jed Holloway and Jack Dempsey. 

Cheika plans to update the squad after the Japanese leg, and rookie centre Jordan Petaia is one of the additions expected to be flown to Europe.

Kerevi re-joined the Wallabies in camp for the first time since suffering a biceps injury in the third June Test against Ireland in Sydney.

Cheika is considering rushing the powerful centre back into the mix for the All Blacks clash in Japan but a lack of game time is an issue. 

There were hopes Kerevi could return in the NRC this weekend, like injured backrower Pete Samu for Canberra, but Brisbane City missed the finals.

So, instead, the Wallabies are making plans for Kerevi to play in the Byron Bay sevens on Saturday for Brisbane club Souths.

“Samu is an important player, we see him as an important player in this squad for a few different reasons,” Cheika said.

“It would have been handy for him to have a game or two under his belt. We are thinking about letting him have a run in a seven tournament up in Byron Bay on Saturday, so we might even let him have a run there so he gets a feel for making some tackles again and get a bit of confidence. And then send him up (to Japan) the next day.

“I think playing some footy would be ideal, any type of footy, before going into a test match would be ideal.”

Holloway, who was signed out of club rugby as a youngster by Cheika when he was Waratahs coach, has been drafted into the squad as a lock, after switching from the back row this season.

He fills the middle row role vacancy created by Lukhan Tui’s withdrawal, and Cheika has also left Caleb Timu out of the squad after sensing he was “run down” following a big year.

Dempsey returns to the Wallabies almost a year after tearing his hamstring severely playing against the Barbarians.

“(Holloway) has had a good year this year,” Cheika said. 

“I have coached him obviously, before, and I feel like he has taken a step forward in the way he approaches some of the area around the contact. He is a good powerful athlete, he is a good ball carrier. He is very dynamic, good line out work, he has all the skillsets and I want expose him to the next level and see if he can go up there.”

After a winter of trialling combinations in the mid-field, Cheika said Bernard Foley would play at no.10 against the All Blacks but he planned to put Matt Toomua in the role on the Spring Tour, at some point.

“Bernard has obviously got a lot of history in that jersey. I had an opportunity to look at a different combination,” Cheika said.

“The guy who has probably hasn’t had the chance at no.10 to have some time is Matt Toomua, and I think I will give him that time at some stage on the tour.

“But Bernard led the team around very well in the second half of that game and he has a lot of historical information in his head about playing ten for Australia in the big games. I guess pretty strongly he will be lining up against New Zealand.”

The third Test against the Kiwis is a dead-rubber, and it presents a huge challenge given the All Blacks handed Australia two big defeats in August.

Cheika said the team had to look at what they’d done well in their competitive stretches in both games, and extend it throughout the 80 minutes. 

He said the Japan clash would also be insightful as far as testing changes to their defensive system.

“We have to prepare well and understand what we did well, because in those games, both first halves we were very competitive,” Cheika said. 

“Understand that we need to do those things, that we were doing in those games, for longer. We have made a few changes as well to the way we do things, from those two games, around the defensive picture, so we will see how they go against the same opposition.”

The Wallabies take on New Zealand in Tokyo on Saturday October 27, kicking off at 2:45pm local, 4:45pm AEDT.