Sean McMahon’s dream year continues after the rising Melbourne Rebels flanker was named to make his Test debut with a Wallabies starting role against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
New Wallabies coach Michael Cheika on Thursday followed through on plans to keep faith with the bulk of Australia’s incumbent Test players, with McMahon one of only two changes to the starting side which fell to the All Blacks last month in Ewen McKenzie’s final game in charge.
McMahon replaces the injured backrower Scott Higginbotham (hamstring) after the 20-year-old produced a standout performance on debut in last week’s tour-opening 40-36 win over the Barbarians in London.
Western Force prop Tetera Faulkner could also earn his first Test cap after being named on an extended nine-man bench that also features veteran playmakers Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
Genia is set to play in his first Test of the year and appears to have risen up the halfback pecking order into a supporting role behind Nick Phipps, with Brumbies scrum half Nic White left out of the squad.
Super Rugby rookie of the year McMahon didn’t even expect to be in the Wallabies spring tour squad, having booked an end-of-season trip to Mexico with his Rebels teammates prior to his surprise call-up.
Cheika promised Test spots would be up for grabs against the Barbarians and McMahon’s barn-storming display, which included a try, has earned him a start ahead of veteran Matt Hodgson, who was captain in the tour opener.
“Sean made the most of his opportunity and brought great work-rate and physicality to our game,” Cheika said.
“This selection also recognises the outstanding year he has had at all levels of the game, and he thoroughly deserves the chance to debut for Australia.”
McMahon won three awards at the John Eales Medal ceremony last month after excelling with the Rebels, National Rugby Championship side Melbourne Rising and the Australian under 20s side.
Running out with the side at a packed Millennium Stadium on Saturday (Sunday morning AEDT) will be yet another highlight in a year that also featured winning Commonwealth Games bronze with the Australian sevens side in Glasgow.
Fit-again No.8 Ben McCalman is the only other change to the side that lost to the All Blacks.
Cheika’s decision to keep faith with those who started in the gallant one-point loss means the likes of centre Matt Toomua face a fight to win back their Test spots during the tour.
Toomua was left out of the squad altogether, as was veteran prop Benn Robinson.
Skipper Michael Hooper and winger Adam Ashley-Cooper both return after being rested last week.
Saturday’s match takes on extra significance given the sides will meet during the group stage at next year’s World Cup.
Australia will also face France, Ireland and England in the coming weeks.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Leali’ifano, Joe Tomane, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper (capt), Sean McMahon, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper. Res: James Hanson, Tetera Faulkner, Ben Alexander, James Horwill, Will Skelton, Matt Hodgson, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Rob Horne (one to be omitted).