SYDNEY (Reuters) - Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has welcomed the inclusion of Ben Te‘o in the England squad for the June series in Australia and thinks the rugby league convert will handle the step up to test rugby if called upon.
Te‘o has excelled at outside centre since leaving Australia and rugby league in 2014 for Irish province Leinster, who Cheika coached to their maiden Heineken Cup triumph in 2009.
“I spoke to him a fair bit before he went over, he went to my club in Ireland, Leinster, so they’ve been very pleased with him over there,” Cheika, a big fan of rugby league, said in the Australian Rugby Union podcast.
”It’s been a very quiet transition, not a lot of noise, so it’s probably given him a chance to get really instilled into the art of playing at 13, which is where he’s been playing.
“You know you’re going to get a tough, hard defender there and from what I’ve watched he’s made the transition really, really well.”
Te‘o’s smooth transition is in marked contrast to that of Sam Burgess, the last rugby league convert to grace the England squad. Burgess, a scapegoat for the host’s miserable 2015 World Cup campaign, returned to Sydney and the 13-man game after just over a year.
Unlike the English born and raised Burgess, Te‘o could be a case study for those arguing for an overhaul of the rules on international eligibility.
Born in New Zealand where he represented the Kiwis’ rugby league team at junior levels, he moved to Australia as a 17-year-old and built a successful career in the National Rugby League with West Tigers, Brisbane and South Sydney.
He represented Samoa at the 2008 rugby league World Cup, declared for Australia to play State of Origin for Queensland before moving to Leinster.
Less than six months after signing for Worcester Warriors for next season, and on the back of his mother’s English heritage, the 29-year-old was one of four uncapped players included in Eddie Jones’s squad for the Australia tour.
”I think it’s a pretty smart play,“ Cheika added. ”There’s not much risk on the line. He’ll get experience with the team.
“Whether he plays tests or not, you don’t know, but I think he’ll handle the jump up. He’s played on the biggest stage, so I don’t think it’s an issue.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford