Overlooked for The Rugby Championship and World Cup, Bernard Foley could yet play a greater role in the Wallabies’ campaign in France after being included in Eddie Jones’ selected 26-man Australia A squad to take on Portugal in Paris on August 26.
But Quade Cooper, the 35-year-old who was sensationally left out of Jones’ World Cup squad, won’t feature against Portugal. Nor will Michael Hooper, whose calf injury still has him sidelined.
Queensland fan-favourite Harry Wilson is another notable omission, with his Reds teammate Seru Uru selected. Jed Holloway is another who has not been selected despite being available.
The news is better for Hunter Paisami, the versatile midfield option, whose season has been frustrated by injuries.
He will be joined by former Reds teammate Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, while Darcy Swain has been called up after sliding down the pecking order over the past 12 months predominantly because of injury and suspension.
Pete Samu, the Bordeaux-bound back-rower, has also been called up in a strong sign that the former Brumbies elusive forward remains in Jones’ World Cup plans.
Experienced inside back James O’Connor, who travelled to Darwin with the Wallabies as one of three additional players including Folau Fainga’a and Tom Lambert, has also been selected.
As has Tom Wright, the Brumbies outside back who was dumped ahead of the Bledisloe Cup series. As has Brumbies halfback Ryan Lonergan.
Cooper, it is understood, will instead travel overseas and put his feet up.
It’s believed he was left furious about not being selected.
While Cooper’s career has already seen several remarkable U-turns, another international call-up seems unlikely.
As for whether Cooper could take up a short-term contract at Toulouse, who are looking for another No.10 option, it’s unlikely he would be granted permission by his Japanese club Kintetsu.
Just last month, Cooper’s long-term halves partner Will Genia was blocked by Kintetsu from accepting a short-term deal at Toulon following Jake Gordon’s injury.
Given Cooper, who is on a huge contract worth around $1 million in Japan, missed the vast majority of Kintetsu’s season this year because of last year’s Achilles injury, it’s unlikely his club would allow him to play for another domestic club side.
Foley, who was too left frustrated after being overlooked over the past two months despite previously feeling the love by Jones, has catapulted back into the mix for the Wallabies.
The 33-year-old was thought to be questioning whether he wanted to tour with Australia A after falling down the pecking order but has decided to go all-in on one last hurrah.
If Stephen Donald’s path to the 2011 World Cup final wasn’t evidence enough, news of Romain Ntamack’s devastating knee-injury, which has ended the French playmaker’s World Cup dreams, was another timely reminder that the selection game can change in a split second.
Foley, who has played at two World Cups including the 2015 final at Twickenham, could easily rocket into the mix if injury was to strike, particularly given Carter Gordon is the only specialist playmaker.
The experienced playmaker played in both Bledisloe Tests last year, including their controversial last-minute loss to the All Blacks in Melbourne, as well as against Scotland, France and Ireland on their Spring Tour.
Since then, Foley led the Kubota to a historic Japanese League One title.
It’s believed no-one included in the Wallabies’ World Cup squad will feature for Australia A.
Jason Gilmore, who will stay on to help coach the Barbarians along with Laurie Fisher, Nathan Grey and Berrick Barnes, spoke of the importance of preparing Australia A as best as possible in case injury strikes the Wallabies.
“It is a quality squad with a good mix of experience and youth throughout,” Gilmore said.
“This is a valuable opportunity for these players, playing on the doorstep of the Rugby World Cup, just days before it kicks off – however the most important thing for us will be to play well together as a team.
“The Rugby World Cup is a long tournament, and history suggests you rarely finish with the same squad that you begin with.
“The players are aware of the possibility that the Wallabies may need an injury replacement, and this is an opportunity for them to put themselves in the picture.
“We are excited to be playing a World Cup team in Portugal, and we expect a strong performance from our team.”
It’s the second match Australia A will play in 2023, having lost to Tonga in July.
A group of 15 from the Australia A squad is expected to remain in the northern hemisphere to feature in the Barbarians’ six-match tour of the United Kingdom.
Australia A squad to play Portugal (caps refer to Wallabies Tests):
Back Row (5)
Outside Backs (4)
* pending fitness – Joey Walton (NSW Waratahs) is on standby