Henry Speight: Chiefs' loss is Wallabies' gain

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 24/07/2014
Henry Speight
Getty Images
GOOD ON YA MATE: New Wallaby Henry Speight has been outstanding on the wing for the Brumbies this season.

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He sidestepped the Chiefs, figuratively and literally - and now Henry Speight has moved a step closer to taking evasive action against the All Blacks.

The Fiji-born, Hamilton-educated wing was the obvious standout when the Wallabies' 32-man squad for the Rugby Championship was named yesterday, just as the afro hair-styled finisher has found himself in the spotlight since joining the Brumbies in 2011.

Speight was the only uncapped player named by head coach Ewen McKenzie, and although he has long been considered as a Wallaby-in-waiting, the reigning Super Rugby champions unsuccessfully tried to subvert that process before the IRB imposed a stand-down period.

The 26-year-old spent four seasons with Waikato but was overlooked by then Chiefs coach Ian Foster and despite playing the 2011 provincial championship in Hamilton he had already switched his allegiance to the Australian capital.

Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith tried to sign Speight in 2012 and after tormenting their side in Canberra on Saturday, Australian rugby's new cult figure is poised to play the All Blacks for the first time in Brisbane on October 18.

Speight only satisfies the IRB's residency criteria on September 11 so he is unavailable for next month's Bledisloe tests in Sydney and Auckland, plus the Perth clash with South Africa on September 6.

Instead he will make his test debut against Argentina on the Gold Coast two days after his stand-down lapses - a wait McKenzie is happy to endure.

Speight trained with the Wallabies before last month's series win over France and was an automatic selection yesterday regardless of Nick Cummins' move to Japan.

"In June he was still wearing his Brumbies gear and participating. This time round he will get to put the gear on and be acknowledged. I think that's an important step for him mentally," McKenzie said.

"It's been a long journey him, effectively four years of waiting.

"Now he can mentally relax about 'Will I or won't I make it?' and then start thinking about what he can add to the environment."

Asked after the Brumbies qualifying final win over the Chiefs last Saturday if it was difficult knowing there were already high expectations placed on him, Speight shrugged: "It's something I've come to accept, there's nothing I can do about it any more. All I can do is try and play well every week."

McKenzie likened the 1.86-metre tall and 97kg Speight to former Wallabies and Queensland wing Digby Ioane and said his skill-set fitted the Wallabies specifications perfectly.

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"He can play tough rugby, he can play with skill, he's got all the attributes.

"He's not a big guy but he's able to apply himself. We've seen some great slow-mo's of his ability to palm and fend and evade," McKenzie enthused.

"He gets off the wing and gets involved in the midfield a bit, he'll clean out and do all those off the ball type things that don't get a lot of acknowledgement."

McKenzie would not be drawn on whether Speight would already be an All Black had he sided with New Zealand.

"There's a lot of good players over there. They had a surplus maybe," he mused, noting prop Sekope Kepu was also sourced from the Chiefs' wider training group.

Meanwhile, another Kiwi import, first five-eighth Quade Cooper, could yet feature at the back end of the tournament if his recovery from a shoulder injury goes to plan; halfback Will Genia (ankle) has started running and may also be added.

Speight's inclusion was not the only scripted element to McKenzie's announcement - inevitably he was also asked if this squad was capable of ending a Bledisloe Cup reign that started in 2003.

"All I can say is each time we played them last year we got closer on the scoreboard, but we didn't beat them.

"We've had some consistent success on the field so that goes to confidence," McKenzie said, buoyed by a seven-test winning sequence. Fairfax NZ

- Stuff

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