- Learn about three new Wallabies
- Australia prepare for Twickenham
A Rugby Championship campaign of upheaval means Australia arrived in Europe at the end of last month with a new head coach in Michael Cheika.
While the trip began at Twickenham with a thoroughly entertaining 40-36 win over the Barbarians before Wales were beaten 33-28, consecutive defeats have followed. France blew hot in Paris to prevail 29-26 and Ireland triumphed 26-23 in Dublin on Saturday.
However, there remains vast amount of ability in Cheika’s party. Their ambitious, dextrous multi-phase attack consistently produces compelling spectacles of running rugby that delights crowds across the globe.
Here are three relative newcomers who could light up the fifth and final game of their autumn against England this weekend.
Sean McMahon – back rower, one cap
This barnstorming back-rower needed to cancel a Mexican holiday to make himself available for this autumn. Booking a vacation was always going to be something of a risk – even at 20, his rise to the senior ranks has felt inevitable for a while.
Back in 2011, McMahon became the youngest ever player to represent Australia Sevens, and three seasons in the Under 20 ranks culminated in him captaining his country at this summer’s Junior World Championship.
A series of dynamic displays for Melbourne Rebels in the Super 15 clinched involvement in Cheika’s first squad. McMahon ended the season with 102 tackles and 56 carries to underline his tenacious industry and athleticism.
He crossed for a try in a phenomenal replacement appearance against the Barbarians, during which 10 would-be tacklers were brushed off.
The following weekend saw a Test debut at the Millennium Stadium, and McMahon held his own opposite a much-vaunted back row of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau, making 15 tackles. In harness with the brilliant Michael Hooper, he is a huge prospect.
Henry Speight – wing, one cap
Even for a veteran, it takes guts and supreme self-confidence to execute a behind-the-back flick to set up a try. Nailing the skill on your maiden international start in front of a capacity Dublin crowd suggests a jaw-dropping level of audacity.
Then again, Fijian-born Speight was far from a regular first-capper . Back in March on his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the Brumbies, he broke his jaw in two places on the stroke of half-time.
Refusing to board an ambulance or accept painkillers – he was reluctant to come off at all – the wing sat on the touchline and watched as Australian rivals, the Waratahs, were beaten 28-23.
The injury stopped him joining in with a victory song in the changing rooms, but he did manage to congratulate his colleagues. Only then did Speight drive himself to hospital, where he required two operations.
Following a two-month lay-off and more time on the sidelines due to a hamstring problem, this brilliant runner with bouffant hair has served his qualification period. Now, he brings his considerable finishing quality and teak-toughness to Australia.
Will Skelton – lock, seven caps
The international retirement of Bakkies Botha this week brought with it something of a watershed. A dwindling clan of abrasive, old-school engine-room enforcers lost a leading man.
Fellow South African Eben Etzebeth can definitely profess to being a fledgling member of that class. Standing just over two metres tall and weighing 140 kilograms – that after a gut-busting focus on cardio-vascular fitness – Skelton should as well.
In short, he is a bruising behemoth who offers fearsome carrying and deft offloading to the sheer ballast that Australia have not always benefitted from.
A try and an assist punctuated his Test debut this June as France were thrashed 39-13 in Sydney and, though Skelton’s only appearances this tour have come from the bench, Cheika well knows his worth.
Only 22, his impact was felt throughout the Waratahs’ glorious Super 15 win – one stunning charge through the Brumbies in the semi-final shrugging off four challenges before Bernard Foley went over.
Given the Wallabies have an unhappy history of struggles in the tight against England, Skelton could be a key performer.