SYDNEY – Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he is keeping a spot open for Pete Samu as New Zealand considers whether to release the Canterbury Crusaders backrower to debut for his national team.
The highly rated Samu was a notable omission when Australia's 32-man squad was announced Wednesday for next month's three-Test series against Six Nations champions Ireland.
The Melbourne-born flanker is eligible for the Wallabies after announcing this week that he will switch to the ACT Brumbies next year, but he needs New Zealand Rugby's agreement to play under his contract with the Crusaders.
Cheika said he wanted him in the squad, and Rugby Australia was trying to get clearance for the first Test against the Irish in Brisbane next week.
"I've been told at this point I can't select him," Cheika said. "There is a spot for him there. It's in others' hands. I'm not really involved in that part of it. I'm hoping there will be some more clarity about that (on Thursday)."
NZR head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said a Rugby Australia request to release Samu was still being considered, "but nothing has been decided yet".
Crusaders chief Hamish Riach has backed Samu's bid to play for the Wallabies.
"He's Australian, he's committed to the Brumbies next year, the Wallabies want him and he's clearly going to play international rugby for the Wallabies at some point," Riach told Radio Sport in New Zealand.
"So we're quite happy for that to be sooner rather than later."
Samu has been in top form for the Crusaders this season, enticing the Brumbies to bring him back to Australia, with the club's head coach Dan McKellar calling him "a powerful backrower with good speed and a skill-set that suits how we want to play".
Samu originally played for Randwick in Sydney, before switching to Tasman in New Zealand from where he was spotted by the Crusaders and earned a Super Rugby contract in 2016.
Australia play Ireland in Brisbane on June 9, Melbourne on June 16 and Sydney on June 23.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)