WALLABIES coach Robbie Deans said former Knights NRL winger Cooper Vuna is a chance to make his Test rugby debut next month on his old home turf of Hunter Stadium.
Deans was in Newcastle yesterday to conduct a masterclass for Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union coaches at No.1 Sportsground and to promote the forthcoming Test match between Australia and Scotland at Hunter Stadium on June 5.
The last time Vuna played at Turton Road was against St George Illawarra in the Knights’ 26-18 round-25 loss in 2010.
The former Novocastrian crowd favourite joined the fledgling Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby franchise last season and has slowly been adapting to the 15-man game.
Already a dangerous runner of the ball, it has been his defensive improvements that have allowed Vuna to emerge as a genuine chance for the Wallabies.
That development has also caught Deans’s eye.
‘‘He’s made some good progress this year and he’s getting a lot of good help particularly around his defensive understandings,’’ Deans said.
‘‘He’s looking more and more comfortable and he’s obviously got a natural talent, which is rare.
‘‘He’s very powerful, very strong and the more he becomes at ease with the team elements of the game, the more he offers.’’
Born and bred in Auckland, Vuna has represented Tonga and the Junior Kiwis at rugby league and made it clear when he changed codes that playing for the Wallabies was his main ambition.
Injuries and the dearth of wingers in Australia means Vuna could soon earn his chance to wear the green and gold.
Australia’s top winger Drew Mitchell is not expected to return to the NSW Waratahs until next week, giving him two Super Rugby matches before the Scottish Test to stake a claim.
Waratahs flyer Lachie Turner is also yet to return from injury.
Queensland Reds flyer Digby Ioane appears likely to claim one wing spot.
When asked what Vuna needed to do to nail down at Wallabies jersey, Deans said: ‘‘Defence is a big part of Test rugby, so that’s a key priority. ‘‘His attacking capability is evident and I think he is really benefiting from having [Rebels] Kurtley [Beale] at 10.
‘‘He’s on a pathway where he’s clearly progressing and that’s the key.’’
The Scottish game, scheduled for a Tuesday night, will be the first time Test rugby has been played in Newcastle.
It is also the first time the Wallabies have played the Scots since their infamous 9-8 loss at Murrayfield in November 2009, which is often described as the low point of Deans’s tenure with national side.
‘‘It’s a great opportunity and I have no doubt the playing group will respond to the passion of the locals,’’ Deans said.
‘‘I’ve been lucky enough to coach around here on a couple of occasions and the passion is enormous. We really hope they bring that enthusiasm and passion to the ground.’’
The Test could provide a few selection headaches for Deans as it will be wedged in between round 15 of Super Rugby on June 1 to 3 and the start of the three-match series against Wales in Brisbane on June 9.
The Wallabies will not finalise their squad until two days before the Test, and Deans is expected to use an extended squad for the back-to-back games.