Samu was able to join the Australian squad in Brisbane yesterday ahead of the first Test at Suncorp Stadium next Saturday, after New Zealand Rugby (NZR) agreed to release him following days of haggling with Rugby Australia (RA). Coach Michael Cheika’s delight was heavily tempered last night by the diagnosis for Uelese, the most experienced hooker in the squad named last week after just two appearances off the bench.
He has a suspected ruptured ACL suffered in the Melbourne Rebels’ win over the Blues in Auckland on Saturday. Instead of flying to Brisbane, Uelese returned to Melbourne for further scans this week.
With veteran Tatafu Polota-Nau sitting out the Ireland series after his European season, it means Cheika is set to hand a debut in the No 2 jersey to either 22-year-old Queensland Reds hooker Brendon Paenga-Amosa or young Brumbies rake Folau Fainga’a.
The arrival of Samu gives Cheika something he has long sought — an extra big, ball-carrying option at blindside flanker alongside smaller backrowers Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
RA CEO Raelene Castle said Melbourne-born Samu had been released for a potential Test debut after what she described as “robust but fair” discussions with NZR. He became eligible for the Wallabies after signing a deal to return home and play for the Brumbies in Super Rugby next season. NZR reportedly sought $NZ50,000 (€30,000) compensation for his provincial side Tasman but neither Castle nor NZR would disclose the terms of their deal. Samu’s contract aligned him to New Zealand.
NZR head of rugby Chris Lendrum said Tasman had given its blessing for Samu to pursue his Test aspirations.
Samu will return to the Super Rugby-leading Crusaders after the June international window and, if selected, be available to join the Wallabies for the Rugby Championship. He will likely be competing with impressive young Queensland Reds player Caleb Timu for a backrow or bench spot.
Meanwhile, Ryan Elias’ late try gave Wales a 22-20 victory against a much-changed South Africa in Washington DC. Warren Gatland’s side took an 11-point lead into half-time but South Africa fought back strongly after the break. The Springboks, who named seven debutants, led 22-17 with five minutes to play but an error by replacement Robert du Preez gifted Wales the win.