High hopes: Super Rugby finalists the NSW Waratahs. Photo: Wolter PeetersWaratahs coach Michael Cheika says workhorse second-rower Kane Douglas “deserved” to wear a Wallabies jersey this year despite his upcoming move to Ireland.
Douglas has been one of the form Australian second-rowers this season and a permanent fixture in the Waratahs’ starting line-up, but was excluded from Test selection after announcing he would join Irish province Leinster at the end of this year.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has implemented a firm policy of not selecting departing players unless injuries require it, as was the case with Douglas’ NSW teammate Benn Robinson and former NSW second-rower Sitaleki Timani last year.
Cheika said it was “a real shame” McKenzie’s efforts to blood young players had robbed the Wallabies of Douglas and vice versa, particularly when the 25-year-old was in career-best form.
“He’s really improved this year and I think it’s a real shame he didn’t get to play for Australia as well,” Cheika said.
“I think he deserved it, and he’s going to be sorely missed by the team when he leaves, that’s for sure.”
Douglas will play his last 80 minutes in a Waratahs jersey in Saturday’s Super Rugby final. Leinster are keen to engage his services as soon as possible but Douglas must be granted an early release from his contract with the ARU to head overseas before the end of the year.
The Wallabies second-row stocks are stretched. Rookies Will Skelton and Sam Carter were the next-most experienced second-rowers named alongside 40- and 50-Test options Rob Simmons and James Horwill. McKenzie may want to keep Douglas around as an insurance policy during what promises to be a brutal Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaign.
“I’d love to get the opportunity to [be called up to the squad],” Douglas said.
“I’m still contracted til the end of the year and I’m unsure of my release date, so I’m here and available if they need me, [so] they can call me.”
For the next few days, Douglas has his hands full preparing to face the Crusaders, who have been installed by New Zealand pundits as out-and-out favourites to win their eighth Super Rugby title at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
For once, the Waratahs have not had to claim underdog status. Cheika wasted no time posing the challenge to his squad.
“The way the feeling is in New Zealand, would be a reflection of how [the Crusaders] are feeling, I think they’d be feeling comfortable with their opponent and that they’ve got the guns to shoot us down,” he said.
“We’ve just got to make sure we put up a wall and get stuck in and hopefully reverse that idea.”
New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue predicted the Crusaders would “destroy” the Waratahs if the match was played in Christchurch. Deferring to the minor premiers’ unbeaten run at home, he said the NSW scrum and lineout “beg” to be attacked.
Respected correspondent Wynne Gray, in the same publication, wrote that the All Blacks’ good record at ANZ Stadium would negate the Waratahs’ home advantage.
“I would have expected that’s how they would have thought,” Cheika said.
“And I suppose part of our history has tended to lead them to that conclusion – that we won’t deliver on the day.
“So we’ll just go out there and play as we have all season … We’ll try and play really attacking footy and see if we can give them some trouble.”
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (capt), Stephen Hoiles, Jacques Potgieter, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Tola Latu, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Will Skelton, Mitch Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Matt Carraro, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Peter Betham (two to be omitted).