Leicester Tigers five-eighth Matt Toomua could be in line to make his debut for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby as early as this weekend after being granted an early release from the Premiership club.
Having avoided the relegation drop while failing to qualify for the play-offs, the Tigers have allowed Toomua to return to Australia early ahead of their final regular season match against Bath this weekend.
The timing of his return home couldn’t be any better for the Rebels, who will likely be without star first-five Quade Cooper, who was taken from the field during his side’s win over the Reds last week due to concussion concerns.
That would leave a vacancy in the No. 10 jersey for this week’s home clash against the Bulls at AAMI Park on Friday, which Toomua could be in line to fill.
The 29-year-old, who is comfortable at operating at either first-five-eighth or second-five-eighth, reported at Rebels headquarters on Monday, nine months after signing a two-and-a-half year deal with the club.
Regardless of whether Cooper is fit to play or not, there is still a good chance that 42-test Toomua could start against the Bulls, whether in be in the No. 10 or the No. 12 jersey.
The duo have played alongside each other 16 times at international level, with six of those as starting first and second-fives.
However, Rebels head coach Dave Wessels could opt to ease Toomua into life at the Rebels, with a bench role a possibility this week, while a debut against the Sunwolves in Tokyo next week might be deemed to be an easier assignment.
Counting against Toomua is the fact that current midfield pair Billy Meakes and Reece Hodge combined well in their first start together this year in the No. 12 and No. 13 jerseys against the Reds, while the fact that Toomua won’t be eligible for the Super Rugby play-offs because he wasn’t registered as a Rebels player before April 1 due to his commitments with Leicester may also come into Wessels’ selection thinking.
Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika will undoubtedly be eager to see Toomua back in Super Rugby action as soon as possible, though, and a potential start at first-five will be of particular interest given he ended 2018 as Australia’s incumbent pivot.
“My junior stuff was all done at 10 and I think I probably still slightly prefer it,” Toomua told reporters in Sydney last year.
“However, I do like playing 12 in the Australian system because it is a lot more entertaining than other systems. So without sitting on the fence too much I’d say 10, but I don’t mind either.”
Cooper will have until Wednesday to prove his fitness for this weekend’s match.
The Short Ball:
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