TOKYO – Wallabies veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper has been drafted into Australia's training squad in Japan this week, raising the possibility of a return two years after winning his last cap.
The 34-year-old utility back made the last of his 116 appearances for the Wallabies in a 29-9 defeat by the All Blacks in August 2016 when he was subbed off early with a suspected concussion.
Injuries to Reece Hodge (ankle) and Tevita Kuridrani (pectoral) have led Australia coach Michael Cheika to turn to Ashley-Cooper, who plays his club rugby in Japan alongside All Blacks legend Dan Carter at the Kobe Steelers.
“Adam will train with us, we'll see where he's at,” Cheika said Monday after the weekend's bruising 37-20 Bledisloe Cup loss to New Zealand in Yokohama. “He's come on the tour with us to be available for selection, he's not coming for a holiday.
“His experience is important and also just his versatility, his ability to cover a few positions,” added the under-fire Wallabies coach, who also called up 18-year-old rookie sensation Jordan Petaia.
“With (Ashley-Cooper) and then a guy like Jordan, it's probably a good balance. We need a couple of extra backs here on the trip.”
Ashley-Cooper would join George Gregan as the only Australian to play in four Rugby World Cups if he is selected for next year's tournament in Japan.
The struggling Wallabies play November Tests away to Wales, Italy and England after the All Blacks condemned them to a ninth defeat in their last 12 Tests.
Despite their form, Cheika put a positive spin on the shape of his squad as they prepare to face Wales in Cardiff on November 11, insisting full-back Petaia can bring some energy to the two-time World Cup winners.
“Jordan has just got a lot of good touches,” he said. “He's a good lad, he wants to succeed, he wants to do the work, he's eager. Having him here with us these next few weeks will give him an idea of what's required at the level and give him a chance to make a play for the World Cup squad.”
Petaia, who would be the third youngest player to make his debut for the Wallabies, if he appears during the tour, is joined by hulking, young back-rower Rob Valetini, 20, who joins the squad as a development player.
Matt Toomua will also join the squad in Odawara for a week-long training camp at the base the Wallabies will use ahead of the 2019 World Cup, officials said.
The Wallabies squad is:
Forwards: Jermaine Ainsley, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Jack Dempsey, Folau Fainga'a, Ned Hanigan, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, David Pocock, Izack Rodda, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Scott Sio, Taniela Tupou
Backs: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Banks, Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Jake Gordon, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Jack Maddocks, Sefa Naivalu, Jordan Petaia, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua
Agence France-Presse (AFP)