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Samu opens up on 'disappointing' Wallabies axing under Cheika

By Sam Smith

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Wallabies star Pete Samu has lifted the lid on his axing from the Australian national squad by former head coach Michael Cheika in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup.

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Samu missed selection for the World Cup after being dropped from the Wallabies by Cheika despite the latter successfully advocated for the loose forward to return to Australian rugby from the Crusaders in 2018.

Prior to that, Samu had spent five years playing first-class rugby in New Zealand for the Christchurch-based Super Rugby franchise and Tasman in the NPC.

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Born and raised in Melbourne, the 29-year-old loose forward had struggled for professional playing opportunities in Australia before making the move across the ditch.

That move proved to be a fruitful one for Samu, who helped the Crusaders clinch back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2017 and 2018 before going on to make his test debut against Ireland on Australian soil three years ago.

His maiden selection in the Wallabies came in spite of the fact he played his club rugby abroad, which is an indication of how highly-regarded was by Cheika, who helped lure Samu back to the Brumbies ahead of the 2019 Super Rugby season.

When that campaign kicked off, Samu had nine tests to his name after establishing himself as a key Wallabies squad member the year beforehand, but he didn’t feature at all for Australia in 2019.

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Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Samu said he received no communication from Cheika or the Wallabies about his sudden omission, which ultimately robbed him of the chance of playing at that year’s World Cup in Japan.

However, according to the Herald, Cheika was left dismayed by Samu’s decision to attend a family wedding instead of a Wallabies training camp earlier that year.

As a result, Samu wasn’t considered for selection by Cheika for the remainder of his five-year tenure as Wallabies boss, which came to an end when Australia were bundled out in the World Cup quarter-finals by England.

Samu labelled the manner in which he was dropped as “disappointing” as he reaffirmed his decision to choose family over rugby as the right one to the Herald.

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“It was pretty disappointing, and I didn’t get much comms around that. It was a big deal [missing out] but being home … it worked out. I got to spend a lot more time at home,” Samu said.

“I’m always about the family first. If I was to pick footy or family, it’d be family. If that’s the reason why I got shafted then yeah, I don’t know what to say about that.

“Being at home it was always good to be around family. It didn’t work out on the footy field, but it was a real positive being back at home and being around family. I’d love to play at a World Cup at the back-end of my career.”

Since Chieka’s departure, Samu has re-established himself as a core member of the Wallabies set-up under new head coach Dave Rennie.

Since coming onboard as Australian boss last year, Rennie has handed Samu a further five tests, most of which have been off the bench as an impact player.

That will change this weekend, though, as Samu will start his first test since last year’s Bledisloe Cup-opening 16-all draw against the All Blacks in Wellington when the Wallabies face off against Los Pumas on the Gold Coast on Saturday.

Not only will it be just his fifth start in the green-and-gold jersey, but it will also be the first time he has started a test at blindside flanker.

Normally a No 8, Samu will line up in a back row comprised of in-form loose forwards Michael Hooper and Rob Valetini, while returning Japan-based star Sean McMahon will provide cover off the bench.

Those names reflect Australia’s depth and competition for places in the loose forwards as they eye their fourth win on the trot, a feat they haven’t achieved since their seven-test unbeaten run in 2017.

If the Wallabies are to replicate their last successful run during the Cheika era, Samu is likely to play a prominent role in doing so.

“[To beat Argentina] we’ve just got to stick to our game plan and make sure we’re playing in the right end of the field for most of the game,” he said.

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Samu opens up on 'disappointing' Wallabies axing under Cheika

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