World Rugby's residency rules prevented Ben Te'o playing for the Wallabies

Ben Te'o during his stint with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL. Photo / Getty
Ben Te'o during his stint with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL. Photo / Getty

Rabbitoh-turned-England rugby player Ben Te'o was keen to return to Australia and push for a Wallabies jersey but eligibility red tape ensured he'll play against former housemate Israel Folau next month, not alongside him.

Te'o was named in Eddie Jones' English squad this week for the three-Test series after switching to rugby in the wake of Souths' 2014 premiership and starring in the centres for major Irish province Leinster.

Te'o qualifies for England via his English mum, and a big-dollar move to Worcester. But despite playing league in Australia for a decade after a moving here as a 17-year-old, representing Queensland and being picked in the Kangaroos squad, the 29-year-old's hopes of playing for the Wallabies were cruelled by World Rugby's residency rules.

Te'o was viewed as a Kiwi by World Rugby, and because he'd moved to play in Ireland, the midfielder would have had to sit out three years to qualify for the Wallabies.

Talks with Michael Cheika and Matt O'Connor at the Reds - who was the man who recruited Te'o to Leinster - came to nothing.

"He expressed an interest in coming back to Australia but the fact he hasn't been here over the last two years meant he'd have to wait another three to play Test footy," Queensland co-coach O'Connor said.

"But he wants to challenge himself at Test level and is certainly good enough. The best way of doing that was to sign at Worcester and have a crack with England.

"We were very keen obviously. He has links here, his girlfriend is a Brisbane girl. He knows the town and I know him well. That was a possibility but it didn't work out."

Along with the IRFU, O'Connor brought Te'o to Dublin to replace retiring superstar Brian O'Driscoll in mid-2014. They were the biggest shoes to fill in world rugby but not only did Te'o's switch bring no carping, he won Leinster's best player award in his second year.

"My boys were keen followers of the NRL at home, so I'd seen bits and pieces of Benny," O'Connor said.

"What I had seen indicated to me that he would be a fantastic rugby player and from that perspective, once I dug a bit deeper and found out his background as a rugby midfielder until about 17, I was pretty confident that he would make the transition and end up being pretty bloody good. And he has been."

Te'o code-hopped at exactly the same time as Sam Burgess but he avoided the same spotlight, and made swift progress. He was on an IRFU "project player" path, that would see him eligible for Ireland in 2017, but he didn't carry Test expectations from the get-go, like Burgess.

"They're slightly different athletes too," O'Connor said.

"From what I know of the modern rugby league game, Benny defended on the edge and attacked on the edge and he was more suited to beating players, as opposed to running over players. Although he can do that, too."

O'Connor believes Jones' love of abrasive rugby league players will see him involved in the Junes series early, particularly now Manu Tuilagi is injured and will miss the tour.

That could see Te'o and Folau face off in the centres, following the latter's move to no.13 for the Tahs this year.

"I texted him last night. We used to live together a couple of years ago. It's great to see him go over there and do well," Folau said.

"It makes things a little bit more interesting. I am so pumped to see him in the squad and he definitely deserves it.

"It will be interesting. He is a great player. We're probably joking about it (playing head-to-head) now but it is something that potentially could happen."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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