Terrence Hepetema was on the brink of entering the Lions' den but a rethink by Robbie Deans means the promising midfield back from Wellington misses the opportunity of a lifetime.
Until Rob Horne was unexpectedly released by Deans from the Wallabies training camp, tomorrow night was shaping up to be the highlight of the 21-year-old's sporting career.
Called into the NSW Waratahs squad as a reinforcement for last Sunday's clash with the Western Force, Hepetema's eight-minute long Super Rugby debut in Perth was to be eclipsed by the prospect of marking Jamie Roberts or Jonathan Davies.
But instead of sitting on the bench at the Sydney Football Stadium when the British and Irish Lions continue preparations for the next Saturday's first test, Hepetema will be in the stands - four hours after playing centre for Randwick against Gordon at Chatswood Oval.
Hepetema was the unlucky back reserve to drop out of the 23-man squad when Horne was released to start at centre. He replaced Tom Kingston, who now covers midfield and the back three.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika sympathised with Hepetema after he made a predictable, though agonising, decision to send the Kiwi back to Shute Shield duties.
"I had to roll over a thousand times in bed you know before I made that call because it's tough. But you could tell the character of the person, he took it on the chin. He's going to come with us (to the game) and be part of the team," Cheika said.
"He's very unlucky. I've got Terrence in my sights going forward. He's got real hunger, he wants to make it and hopefully I'm going to find a forum where he can get a few games with us so we can have a look a good look at him."
A fortnight ago Cheika told Hepetema he was joining the squad to help cover the absence of Horne, Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper and on Wednesday he was rapt to be signing autographs at a fan day at the SFS.
Less than 24 hours later he had to accept that barring a late injury he would not get the chance to get one-up on childhood friend and fringe All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara, who must wait until 2017 for a crack at the Lions.
"It was my No 1 goal to be in the mix for this. Playing against the Lions is obviously a dream come true," he said, before Cheika conveyed the bad news.
Hepetema was brought to Sydney by Randwick two years ago and is on a short-term deal with the Australian Rugby Union's national academy.
At the end of the Sydney club competition the former Hurricanes schools' representative hopes to return home and play in the ITM Cup to enhance his chances of securing a contract with the Waratahs.
"Now I've started doing some OK things there's opportunities for me now back in New Zealand. That's something I want to look at," he said.
"If I got some ITM Cup action it would definitely boost my credibility. That's something I've always wanted to do, as a kid I've always wanted to play provincial rugby."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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