Rugged back-rower Ben McCalman has beaten Sean McMahon and Sam Carter to win the final Wallabies bench spot for their vital World Cup clash with England.
Coach Michael Cheika, who earlier on Thursday named the same starting XV as the one that took down Fiji for the crucial Pool A fixture on Saturday (Sunday AEDT), went with his gut in opting for the 192cm McCalman, who can cover the back-row and lock positions.
Cheika needed one final training session in south London on Thursday before settling on his bench.
McCalman’s inclusion, in place of injured Will Skelton, is the only change to Australia’s match-day 23 from their tournament-opening victory over Fiji.
Carter was strongly considered, despite only joining the squad on Tuesday, as an injury replacement for Skelton, who was this week ruled out of the World Cup after suffering a pectoral injury.
However, it was the challenge posed by feisty young gun McMahon that caused Cheika the greatest headache.
It is understood the 21-year-old Rebels star was pencilled in for the bench spot after starring with a man-of-the-match performance in Sunday’s 65-3 thrashing of Uruguay, in which he scored two tries, was a menace at the breakdown and ran with aggression all afternoon.
McCalman also played a key role in the Uruguay rout, grabbing a brace of tries himself in a strong all-round display.
The closeness of the selection fight is another nod to how well thought of McMahon is within the Wallabies camp, though McCalman’s experience and ability to play in the lineout were considered key factors in his winning out – which is why he’ll suit up at Twickenham on Saturday.
“Sean McMahon’s initial selection was for a certain reason and he’s certainly bringing that and he’s fulfilling his role within the team and when he gets his opportunity to play for Australia he needs to cherish that because not everyone gets that chance,” Cheika said this week, prior to the team naming.
“We’ve got some pretty influential players in those (back-row) positions, but as long as he’s there rattling their cage, that will keep them honest and that will keep him honest as well going forward.
“I was very pleased and proud of his performance because he knows those guys are there and he’s just got to keep taking it to them.”
Meanwhile, prop James Slipper returns to take his place on the bench after missing the Uruguay game through concussion, which he suffered against Fiji.
Wallabies team to face England:
Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Dean Mumm, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale, Drew Mitchell.