New Wallaby Duncan Paia'aua was preparing to return to France until one call from Dave Rennie changed it all.
Paia'aua was the shock inclusion in the Wallabies 42-man squad, with a combination of injuries and COVID restrictions limiting options.
The 26-year-old completes a remarkable return to the national set-up, having featured just once before departing for Toulon, a Wallabies v Barbarians game in 2017.
“I was actually leaving back for France ready to re-join my team back in Toulon on Saturday but ‘Rens’ (Dave Rennie) rang me on Thursday asking if I could stay behind for this camp and it was a shock,” Paia’aua said.
“I jumped at the chance and I’m going to take the opportunity and hopefully go well.
“I left (Reds for France) when I was only 24 so I thought I was still young enough to go over and hopefully one day come back to Australia., It’s just come early than I expected.
“I have been working hard overseas and I’m glad Dave saw that.”
Paia'aua has had the chance to learn from some of the best at Toulon, particularly legendary All Black Ma'a Nonu.
The opportunity to play alongside a generational talent and All Blacks legend was crucial according to Paia'aua, who believes he has transformed his game since leaving the Reds.
“I’ve grown so much as a player since when I left,” he believes.
“I’ve played with a lot of experienced players during my time at Toulon and I’ve just picked up how they prepare for games and their bodies every week for the games. My skill set has improved a lot also so hopefully I can get the chance to show that.
“(Nonu’s) been a massive influence on me being a centre since he’s being there. He’s one of the best 12’s to play the game so I try to copy him,” he said.
“He’s been really good to me, every time we’re on the field he pulls me aside and helps him work on my skills, especially my kicking game.
“He’s probably one of the most influential players I’ve come across.
“Ma'a Nonu's messaged him, Eben Etzebeth as well messaging to congratulate. They said my hard work is finally paying off, they’ve been very supportive.”
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The utility back still has one year left on his deal with the French powerhouse, who provided him clearance to join the squad in camp this week on the Gold Coast.
Whilst his future is unsure, being firmly on the Wallabies radar is a decent carrot to attract him back home.
“Dave’s called me a couple of times whilst I was over in France,” he admitted.
“I’ve still got another year on my contract in Toulon so I haven’t discussed anything in my future yet…Being in camp, I can see what the set up is personally so I’ll see how I go and make a decision from there."