When Scott Higginbotham signed to return to the Reds, he thought his Wallabies days were over.
He wasn’t invited to any preliminary camps this year, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika preferring to leave Higginbotham to his own devices in his Super Rugby comeback, after two seasons in Japan.
“I think he just wanted to give me the opportunity to ease back into Super Rugby and the Australian lifestyle,” Higginbotham said.
“It's a lot different when you're playing football in Japan and there's not a lot of media and not a lot of judgement on the way you play and I suppose at my age that’s kind of nice.”
That gradual easing in meant Higginbotham was in some ways unprepared for the June Series call-up, despite his unignorable form, and even more taken aback when he was seemingly training alongside starters earlier this week.
“Up until I got picked in the squad, I didn't think I'd be playing again,” he said.
“It was obviously pretty unexpected, missing the camps and whatnot and then coming in at the start of the week and I suppose training in what seemed to be the starting side was also another shock.
“Coming back to the Reds, I signed knowing I might not play for Australia again and I was well aware of that and I suppose that's helped me to relax and enjoy my football.”
Now that he is in line for a 33rd Test cap, and his first since the Wallabies' 2015 Rugby Championship match against South Africa in Brisbane, Higginbotham isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Being here now was a surprise and something I didn't expect,” he said.
“I'm just going to take it a game at a time, just enjoy the ride.
“Every Test I get from here out is an extra Test I didn't think I'd get.” - Scott HIgginbotham
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika left Higginbotham out of his 2015 Rugby World Cup squad and while he doesn’t regret that choice, the Test coach said he understood Higginbotham’s value more now.
“He's kept stepping up to the mark for the Reds in what's been a difficult year for them and maybe from when I coached him the first time, I'm a little bit different as well,” he said.
“I can understand this guy's profile. I don't need him to change, I just want him to be really good at what he's good at and then I'll put some other guys with him that will complement him because he's a game breaker.
“That guy is a match winner and I know that he'll take his opportunity because he made a decision to come back for this, he's got step one of the way and I believe that he'll take this opportunity in front of him.
“I think that maybe he's changed a little bit and I've changed a little bit and I'm only looking at what he's going to do for us from now on, not backwards.”
The Wallabies take on Fiji on Saturday at AAMI Park, kicking off at 3pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS. Buy tickets here.