NATHAN SHARPE has answered the mayday call from Australian rugby and will play on through the four-Test tour of Europe next month.
Sharpe said he wanted to help the Wallabies through the toughest international season he could remember and would delay his retirement for a second time and finish his 111-Test career playing against Wales – for the 14th time – in Cardiff on December 2.
“Playing for Australia is something I have never taken for granted. As such, to be asked to continue beyond the deadline I had set for myself was both flattering but also a request that was very difficult to turn down,” Sharpe said.
“I have never known a season where the Wallabies have faced such adversity as we have this year. To show the spirit and character that the team has is a mark of how the group has grown, both individually and collectively, and I have enjoyed playing my part in that.
“The opportunity to lead the Wallabies again on what will be a challenging but exciting tour was too tempting. It is not easy to say no to your country.”
Sharpe, 34, had planned to retire at the end of the Super Rugby season but agreed to play through the Rugby Championship and final Bledisloe Cup match after a career-best performance in the three-Test series against Wales in June.
The Wallabies’ second-row stocks were ravaged by Dan Vickerman’s forced retirement and a long-term injury to first-choice captain James Horwill.
Deans has spent the past 12 months cultivating the likes of Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis and Kane Douglas and Reds second-rower Rob Simmons is a regular member of the match 22. But without Sharpe the Wallabies lack the hard-won composure the Queenslander brings to the table.
His decision to play on past the Brisbane Test against the All Blacks next weekend also helps fill a leadership vacuum in the squad left following injuries to back-up captain David Pocock and his replacement Will Genia.
“You only have to look at what he has achieved with the group since he took over as captain,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said.
”His influence has been immense, he is arguably playing the best rugby of his career but, most importantly, he is enjoying the experience.
“Sharpey’s presence and leadership has been a constant throughout the year – one of the few aspects of continuity that we’ve had through a season that is probably without precedent in terms of disruption.
“For that reason, it was straightforward asking him to continue … While he has a range of other commitments in his life, and touring means putting them on hold again, I had no doubt that he would be keen to continue.”
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