Prodigal sons happy to return to Wallaby fold

2015-09-16 21:09
Michael Cheika (Gallo)

Bath - Australia playmaker Matt Giteau admitted Wednesday that he and Toulon teammate Drew Mitchell were "very thankful" for a reprieve in Australian selection rules regarding overseas-based players.

The 32-year-old Giteau, an international exile for the last four years but in arguably the form of his life for three-time European Cup champions Toulon, was controversially axed from the 2011 World Cup squad by then-coach Robbie Deans.

However, an easing of eligibility rules regarding overseas players by the Australian Rugby Union has paved the way for his and Mitchell's return to the green and gold jersey.

"It's a big issue for us, but now it's been done," Giteau said of the decision to relax the selection policy.

"We're here and we're both very thankful that we've been given the opportunity to come back and play for our country and be involved in what's a massive occasion like the World Cup.

"Our rules have been brought in and we're very thankful for that," added Giteau, who came on as a temporary replacement for Stephen Larkham in the 2003 World Cup final which the Wallabies lost to a last minute drop goal by England's Jonny Wilkinson in Sydney.

Ironically, Giteau and Mitchell play club rugby with flanker Steffon Armitage, former European player of the year but ineligible for England because of their much-criticised policy of not picking overseas-based players.

"I speak with Stef a bit," Giteau said, chuckling when asked whether the flanker was still at home kicking the furniture.

"Stef's the type of guy who moves on, he's focusing on his holidays, putting on a bit of weight, I suppose."

Assistant coach Nathan Grey, the ex-Wallaby centre, said it was a win-win situation for the team coached by Michael Cheika.

"You want the best 15 (in the run-on team), the best 31 Australians players in the world representing the Wallabies (squad)," Grey said.

"That's great and it's exciting to have those guys come back. If they're available for selection and good enough to get selected then they're going to get selected, so it's great for everyone."

The Wallabies kick off their campaign against Fiji on Wednesday, after the Pacific Islanders play hosts England in the tournament opener on Friday.

The Australians then go on to play Pool A minnows Uruguay before more testing run-outs against England and Wales, with only two teams guaranteed of automatically advancing to the quarter-finals.

"Internally we're pretty comfortable with where we're at," said 31-year-old winger Mitchell.

"Obviously Michael (Cheika)'s had a look at a few different combinations and tried a few things and we've been able to take from that some positives and some things to work on.

"We've been away at Notre Dame (in America) for the last couple of weeks and we've been able to work on that and also playing that Test match against the United States (a 47-10 victory) which was really beneficial for us again."

Mitchell added: "There's a great level of self-belief within the group, not only collectively but also individually.

"But first and foremost is Fiji and we'll come up against a really strong side and after that game, regardless of the outcome, there'll be things that we need to work on, we'll look at that and move on to the next game.

"We can't disregard any country we come up against. Fiji are a very dangerous side, with some really world class, quality players right throughout their side. We've come up against a number of them in the European Cup and the Top 14 as well as our guys playing against a lot of them in Super Rugby.

"We know how dangerous they are. We need to make sure we turn up against Fiji right from the beginning and go out there and get the result we want."

Mitchell said Fiji were "far too good a side to look beyond them and for us it's all about focusing on that" rather than the bigger goal of qualification from the so-called "Pool of Death".

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