LONDON (Reuters) - Bath backrower Leroy Houston beamed from ear to ear after his place in the Wallabies’ matchday 23 was confirmed for the final Rugby Championship match against Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday.
The New Zealand-born 29-year-old is on the brink of ending an 11-year wait for an international debut, having been picked for the Wallabies’ 2005 tour but overlooked for test duty.
Serendipity has played a huge part in his recall, with a number of back row injuries opening the door and his location at Bath enabling him to quickly join the camp in London.
Coach Michael Cheika and his determination to repatriate overseas-based talent has also been key, with Houston set for a second stint with the Brisbane-based Queensland Reds next season after signing a two-year deal with the Super Rugby team.
“I can’t put it into words (how I feel). Emotions are running high,” the specialist number eight told local media.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get back into the Wallabies.”
Houston was among a clutch of impressive juniors picked for the 2005 tour and watched a number of them thrive in the gold jersey.
A young Stephen Moore was also on his first tour with Houston and on Saturday the hooker-captain will line up for his 111th test.
Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and winger Digby Ioane would also go on to carve out distinguished careers.
Houston was unable to make much of an impression during the tour, saying he felt “star-struck” at the time.
“I grew up looking up to those type of players, like George Smith, Steve Larkham, ‘Squeak’ (Moore) was a bit younger back then,” he said.
“To be honest I was really, really shy and I didn’t really speak too much but just the whole time in my head (I was saying) ‘wow I can’t believe I‘m with these guys at the moment. I get to train with them and play with them’.”
Now an imposing 6-ft-3, 117 kg presence, Houston has become something of an enforcer for Bath in the English Premiership and he will be keen to make up for lost time should he run on as Cheika’s 11th test debutant for the season.
Another rookie Lopeti Timani is the starting number eight but Houston is also capable of playing blindside flanker and can expect some game time in front of a bumper crowd for the teams’ repeat of their World Cup semi-final.
“(Houston‘s) an excellent ball player, ball carrier and he puts his heart and soul into it as well,” Cheika said earlier this week.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Greg Stutchbury