The boy from Townsville hoping to bring down the Wallabies

  
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11/8/2013


The day you win your 50th Test cap is special for any player but for Italian fullback Luke McLean it will be extra special this weekend in Turin, because it will be earned against the country of his birth, Australia.

He’ll even be facing up against some old team mates – Will Genia and Nick Cummins who he played with in the Australian Under 19 team in 2006. And no doubt his aerial skills will be regularly tested by former Brisbane Souths clubmate, Quade Cooper.

Playing the Qantas Wallabies is something McLean is now getting use to. Saturday’s Test (Sunday morning 1am AEDT) will be the sixth time he has come up against the Men of Gold.

McLean admits he did find it odd the first time he heard the Australian national anthem being sung by the opposition, but now he takes it all in his stride.

"Once you get out on the field its fifteen vs fifteen and you see them as the opposition and you want blood," said the now passionate Italian.

"After being in Italy for so long now I'm more Italian than Australian, even my girlfriend keeps telling me I'm losing my English."

Born in Townsville, McLean qualifies for Italy through his Italian grandmother, and he hasn't looked back since leaving Perth in late 2007, becoming a regular with the Azzurri soon after.

His passion doesn’t stop with just wanting to perform well against the Wallabies, the giant 26-year-old wants to be part of the "biggest victory in Italian history".

Australia have never lost to Italy in 15 meetings but the Azzurri upset both France and Ireland in this year's Six Nations and Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has spoken this week of the danger they pose.

"(Beating Australia) would probably be the biggest victory in Italian history," said the 191cm, 97kgs McLean.

"To take the scalp of the fourth-best team in the world, and the Wallabies - who have won the Rugby World Cup twice - everyone knows the importance and how difficult it will be to come away with the win."

Under new coach Frenchman Jaques Brunel, Italy have steadily improved as the wins over Ireland and France attested.

The Azzurri almost stole a win against Australia last year in Firenze where they fought back from 22-6 down at half time before just being edged out 22-19.

"We obviously have to prove to ourselves, and the Italian public as well, that we are on the right track," explained McLean.

"The best way to do it is win those close games."

The Benetton Treviso No.15 is also fully aware of the threat posed by the Wallabies, despite Australia not achieving the results they would have liked this season.

"You have to put it into perspective, (New Zealand and South Africa) are playing top-notch Rugby and Australia has definitely improved since the season has gone on," he said.

"They are a quality team and we have to be on our game because if you give their backs a bit of room they can run riot and we saw that in Argentina (where the Wallabies ran in seven tries to win 54-16)."

McLean will start at fullback against the Wallabies while former Scottish Under 20 flyhalf Tommy Allan is an eye-catching inclusion on the bench.

Italy will also sport a new-look front-row with regular hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini on the bench due to a shoulder injury and the retirement of another veteran, loosehead Andrea Lo Cicero.

But the Azzurri still have plenty of experience with captain Sergio Parisse at No.8 and Martin Castrogiovanni, widely regarded as one of the best scrummagers in the world, at tight head prop.

Castrogiovanni will look to give the Wallabies a torrid time at the scrum and test out any possible weaknesses in that facet of the Men of Gold's game.

Italian team to face the Qantas Wallabies in Turin
(Sunday November 10th, 1am AEDT)
15. Luke McLean
14. Tommaso Benevenuti
13. Luca Morisi
12. Alberto Sgarbi
11. Leonardo Sarto
10.Alberto Di Bernardo
9. Edoardo Gori
8. Sergio Parisse (capt)
7. Robert Barbieri
6. Alessandro Zanni
5. Marco Bortolami
4. Antonio Pavanello
3. Martin Castrogiovanni
2. Davide Giazzon
1. Michele Rizzo
Replacements:
16. Leonardo Ghiraldini
17. Matias Aguero
18. Lorenzo Cittadini
19. Quintin Geldenhuys
20. Joshua Furno
21. Tobias Botes
22. Tommaso Allan
23. Tommaso Iannone