Wallabies Samu Kerevi, Sean McMahon to play no part on spring tour

play
How much will the Wallabies feel the loss of Kerevi? (1:08)

Sam Bruce and Christy Doran discuss the impact of the Wallabies being without hard-charging centre Samu Kerevi. (1:08)

Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon have withdrawn from the Wallabies' spring tour, the duo instead opting to remain in Japan and return to preseason preparations with Suntory Sungoliath.

And Quade Cooper may yet also be lost for the Tests against Scotland, England and Wales, with his availability still to be rubber-stamped.

On Tuesday morning [AEDT] it was revealed that Kerevi and McMahon had not travelled to the United Kingdom with the rest of the squad on Sunday, and that they had instead fronted their clubs to discuss the situation on Monday.

Following those meetings, both Kerevi and McMahon informed Wallabies coach Dave Rennie that their Test seasons were effectively over, leaving Australia a further two players short in their touring party.

"I think right from the start the boys wanted the blessing of the club to tour," a disappointed Rennie explained from Brighton on Tuesday morning [BST]. "In Samu's case, he's been away from home for a while, or away from Suntory for a while, and obviously they're in preseason now and they've got a competition that starts in January.

"They've always been very positive about being back in the environment, keen to be a Wallaby, and then we felt that if we got the blessing of the club, or they got the blessing of the club, that they would tour.

"So obviously we left on Sunday, the Japanese boys stayed in Japan, based on [Regulation 9], and then they met with the club on Monday and they informed us that they won't be travelling."

Cooper, who did play in the Wallabies' 32-23 victory over Japan, also did not travel north with the Wallabies, with meetings around his availability moving forward set to take place on Wednesday. Given Australia don't face Scotland until Sunday week, and the Wallabies European-based players won't link with the squad until the weekend, it is possible that Cooper could yet add to his five Tests from this year.

But Wallabies management will be understandably nervous until that is confirmed, given how the situation with Kerevi and McMahon shifted and that Suntory has appeared to pressure the duo into putting club over country.

"We spoke with Quade this morning, or he met with the club, and we've got a meeting with Kintetsu tomorrow [Wednesday]," Rennie said.

"The whole time the boys have said that they want the support of the club, that they want the blessing of the club to say that they are happy for them to go.

"In Quade's case and Samu, they'd obviously been away for a long time. Obviously Sean has spent less time in our environment and they did mention that when we were in Royal Pines they were nervous about how the club would respond, or how their clubs would respond to them touring, and they were keen to get their blessing to do that."

Kerevi's withdrawal has dealt a huge blow to the Wallabies' hopes of victory against Scotland, England and Wales, such has been the centre's impact since his return to the international arena.

The loss of McMahon is far less significant, with the back-rower only having enjoyed a short cameo appearance off the bench in the closing Rugby Championship Test on the Gold Coast.

But Kerevi had been the spearhead behind the Wallabies' four Rugby Championship wins, firstly over South Africa on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, and then Argentina in the closing two weeks of the tournament. His hard-running and ability to get Australia on the front foot allowing Cooper to play with greater restraint.

Then, on Saturday, Kerevi's absence in Oita was telling. The midfield partnership of Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau combined for just 27 run metres between them, with Cooper often finding himself in heavy defensive traffic as a result.

"We're disappointed, obviously, Samu in particular has played five Tests prior to missing the game against Japan, has been excellent on and off the field," Rennie said.

"And I know these boys have loved their time in the environment but they've made a decision based on what their club needs. It wasn't an easy decision for those guys but that's what they've decided to do."

Rennie had, prior to Saturday's win, spoken of trying to build relationships with Japanese clubs, saying that Australia did not merely want to enforce "Regulation 9" when it came to the Wallabies' change in direction on the selection of overseas-based players.

While the findings of a review into changing the Giteau Law are still to be revealed, there had been nothing stopping the Wallabies from demanding the release of both Kerevi and McMahon under Regulation 9 which can be enforced during designated international windows.

When Suntory first signed Kerevi and McMahon, the duo was not eligible to play for the Wallabies under the criteria of the Giteau Law in 2018 and 2020 respectively.

That situation has since changed however and while the club may have been happy for both players to participate in the Rugby Championship, had they headed off to the U.K. for the next four weeks the duo would have missed nearly a month of Suntory's preseason for the Japanese Top League, which kicks off on Jan. 7.

The situation revives memories of the "club vs. country" struggle, which has often hamstrung Pacific Island nations at this time of year or at the World Cup when teams have attempted to influence players from refusing international selection.

It is relatively new ground for the Wallabies, however, which is perhaps why officials had first attempted the diplomatic route of securing the availability of Cooper, Kerevi and McMahon.

Whether the withdrawal of Kerevi and McMahon from the spring tour leads to another rethink on changes to the Giteau Law remains to be seen.

But both the Wallabies management and Rugby Australia administrators were already wary of shifting the selection dial further into the players' favour, potentially giving those based overseas the control over when or where they would make themselves available for national duty -- not the other way around.

"Obviously picking guys from a [Regulation 9] point of view is in its infancy from a Wallaby perspective," Rennie said when asked whether Australian rugby had learned a harsh lesson.

"The Argentinians, the South Africans predominantly pick most of their squad out of Europe and I guess clubs sign those players knowing that from a [Regulation 9] point of view they're going to lose them at various times throughout the year.

"So that's potentially a complication at the moment that could remedy itself over time. But we'll get together with the board post-tour to get an indication of where to from here."

Paisami had been the Wallabies preferred inside centre before Kerevi's return to the national fold, though the 28-year-old's withdrawal may open up the opportunity for Izaia Perese to make his Test debut at Murrayfield on Sunday week. Rennie last week said Perese would be "a chance" to face Scotland on the back of two further weeks' familiarisation with the Wallabies' structures.

Australia are otherwise fighting an injury crisis at fullback with Reece Hodge having suffered a pectoral injury against the Brave Blossoms on the weekend.

With Tom Banks already sidelined, the Wallabies may turn to either Andrew Kellaway or Jordan Petaia at fullback for Saturday week's Test against Scotland, but Rennie also confirmed yet another veteran back was on the verge of returning to the Test frame.

"We've made contact with Kurtley [Beale] and we've had conversations with Kurtley over a period of time and he's made it really clear his desire to be a Wallaby again," the Wallabies coach said. "And I guess with the introduction of some of the guys he played with previously he was pretty excited by that. So we had a conversation yesterday [Monday] around that."