Veteran Wallaby prop Sekope Kepu has re-signed with Australia and the Waratahs, keeping alive his dream of playing against the British and Irish Lions.
The 27-year-old former loose forward, who has appeared in 23 Tests since his debut against Italy in 2008, has recommitted to the Australian Rugby Union and the Waratahs for a further two years.
Kepu, who was born in Sydney but schooled at south Auckland's Wesley College, which also produced All Black superstar Jonah Lomu; is a valuable commodity among the front row community due to his ability to function on both sides of the scrum.
He has started Test matches in both the loosehead and tighthead propping position, and has come of age as a Test match performer in recent years, accumulating all but three of his Test appearances in the last two years.
This tally includes six of Australia's seven Tests at the 2011 World Cup.
"Going overseas was an option, but there's still much I want to achieve in Australia," Kepu, who has also played 50 games for the Waratahs, said.
"Attending the World Cup in New Zealand two years ago was a significant moment, but we didn't achieve all we wanted to at that tournament. There is still some unfinished business there. By staying in Australia, I can give myself another shot by aiming for the team for the next one in England in 2015.
Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, who introduced Kepu to Test rugby, said his recommitment was important, given his experience and ability to play on both sides of the front row.
"Even allowing for the change in protocols which provides for two props on the bench, a player who can play both sides is a valuable commodity, and 'Keps' has worked hard to put himself in that position," Deans said.
"The challenge is always there so he can't take anything for granted. He's experiencing that now at the Waratahs, with the emergence of genuine competition for spots, but that's a good thing and will bring the best out of him. The important thing is that he has re-signed. That action said he is up for it. Props are always in demand in Europe but re-committing said that 'Keps' is seeking to get the best out of his Test career."
A father of three; Faith-Rose (four years old), Israel (one) and Isaiah, who was born just last week; Kepu said family considerations did play a big role in the decision making process for he and his wife Anna.
"My family is well settled, we've just got a new baby and we all love living in Sydney," he said.
"There's no place I'd rather be right now and for the next two and a half years, especially with a British & Irish Lions tour coming up in a couple of months. I'm desperate to be involved in that, to pull on the gold jersey again."
With the once-in-12-years British & Irish Lions tour of Australia just two-and-a-half-months away, competition for spots in the 31-man Wallabies squad is tight.
This is especially so amongst the front row forwards: there are currently 11 props boasting Test experience spread across the five Australian Super Rugby franchises.
Kepu is feeling the pressure already, having to vie with fellow Test props Benn Robinson and Paddy Ryan alongside the uncapped Jeremy Tilse just for a place in the Waratahs front row.
Rather than seeing that as a negative, Kepu believes the competition has driven the improvement that is evident in the Australian scrum, and said it needs to continue.
"We've made a lot of progress as a scrum at Test level. The last year-end tour showed that, but we need to keep going to remove totally the negative perception of our scrum. The Lions will be another big test in that regard, but we've shown we can handle it. The competition just to get a place in the team will hopefully keep driving the standards higher."
Now in his sixth year with the Waratahs said his belief in the special times ahead clinched his decision.
"I've debuted and progressed with this franchise and I want to stay on and try to accomplish all the things that I first wanted to do here. The organisation is building something special. I guess I want to be around to be part of that," he said.
"The Waratahs gave me my first opportunity. It's the reason I came over, it's something I love," said Kepu.
"The last few months have been challenging, but in a good way. I've just recently had a little one, so it's all happened pretty quickly.
"Now I've got all those things signed off, I can focus on my rugby and my family."
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