Monday 23 April 2018

Nathan Sharpe delays retirement to bolster Wallabies tour of northern hemisphere

Sudipto Ganguly

VETERAN lock Nathan Sharpe has delayed his retirement for a second time and made himself available for Australia's northern hemisphere tour next month.

It has been a remarkable 12 months for the 34-year-old Sharpe, who had slipped to being a fringe player at last year's World Cup where he won his 100th cap, and he had planned to retire after the Super Rugby season.

He was persuaded by Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to play on in the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship after injuries ruled out captain James Horwill and Dan Vickerman and with little in the way of depth of international experience in Australia's locking stocks.

He rose to the captaincy for the second half of the Rugby Championship when Horwill's successor David Pocock injured his knee in the opening match and scrumhalf Will Genia followed two games later.

Sharpe's performances and leadership of the injury-ravaged Wallabies in those three matches persuaded Deans to ask him to postpone his retirement once more for the tests against France, England, Italy and Wales starting next month.

"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 in a statement.

"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 is expected to play his last test on home soil in Brisbane on October 20 when the Wallabies face the All Blacks in the final dead rubber match of the Bledisloe Cup, which the world champions wrapped up in August to retain the trans-Tasman trophy for a 10th successive season.

Last weekend in Rosario, he became Australia's most capped forward, and second most capped player, by playing his 111th test match.

"You only have to look at what he has achieved with the group since he took over as captain," 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.

"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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