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By Qantas Wallabies Media Unit
Qantas Wallabies and Western Force utility forward Ben McCalman is staying in Australia after extending his contract with the Australian Rugby Union and the Force by a further two years through until the end of 2015.
The news follows in the footsteps of the retention of the experienced Brumbies front-rowers Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander, as the core of the recent Wallabies playing group begins to reaffirm their commitment to Australian Rugby.
McCalman, who is a product of the Sydney University club but has been based in Western Australia since his debut for the Force in 2010, was forced to miss last season’s entire Test programme due to a nerve injury in his shoulder, which was followed by a broken forearm during his return to playing duties at club level.
Although frustrated, the 24-year-old is determined to make up for the lost time this year in the quest to add to the 21 Test appearances he currently has, while also bidding for a spot at his second Rugby World Cup, in England in 2015.
“It wasn’t easy missing out [on the Wallabies] last year but the break has given me a decent rest and added to the hunger to get back. I’ve had a good off-season, have enjoyed getting back into my work with the Force and can’t wait to get started again,” McCalman says.
“There’s a lot to look forward to this year with a new coaching team and a lot of new faces at the Force, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing against the British & Irish Lions, and then the Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship and Spring Tour after that.”
Prior to last year’s mishaps, McCalman had compiled an impressive Wallaby resume, despite often flying under the radar compared to some of his higher profile team-mates.
The versatile forward, who has featured in four different positions in the Australian forward pack, achieved the rare feat of making a Test debut in the same year, 2010, as he had made his maiden appearance in Super Rugby.
After playing all 13 games of his debut Super Rugby season with the Force, McCalman was acknowledged by winning the club’s Rising Star award.
He was then selected in the Australian Barbarians side for the midweek series against England, winning inclusion from there in Australia’s Tri Nations squad, which brought a Test debut off the bench against South Africa in Brisbane.
His second and third Test appearances also came against the Springboks, during that year’s South African tour, with his first starting role coinciding with Australia’s historic 41-39 win over South Africa at Bloemfontein which represented the Wallabies’ first win on the high veldt in the Republic for 47 years.
The South African matches saw McCalman establish himself as a regular in the Wallaby match night squad, to the extent that he had missed just one game between his second and 21st Test appearances, prior to that sequence being halted by last year’s injuries.
McCalman’s two Test tries [against Russia and Wales] were both scored during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and he admits that representing Australia at the 2015 edition is a long-term goal.
“Absolutely, although there’s a lot of rugby to be played between now and then,” McCalman says.
“If you look at last year, while it was a difficult time because of all of the injuries, a lot of new blokes got a chance and many of them took it.
“That adds to the depth of players with Test experience, while intensifying the competition for places across the board. I think we will see that first up in Super Rugby this year, because everyone is going to be desperate to get a shot at playing a Test against the Lions.”
Although groomed at Sydney University, and via the Australian Sevens programme in 2009 and 2010, McCalman has proved a flag bearer for the country game in Australia, having been raised on a 6000ha wheat farm at Warren, near Dubbo, in country NSW.
Given that background, he is delighted that Australian Country’s finest will get their opportunity to tackle the Lions, when the tourists play a combined Queensland & NSW Country representative side at Newcastle on 11 June.
“There are a growing number of guys running around in Super Rugby that started off playing country rugby. It’s great that the Australian Rugby Union has recognised that by including the country game on the fixture list for the Lions tour,” McCalman says.
“That will be a massive night, both for the country players and their families and friends, but also the wider country rugby community as a whole. Who knows? Playing on that stage might just help to propel a few of those guys into Super Rugby, and who knows where things can lead from there.”
The highly anticipated 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour to Australia will kick off in Perth on Wednesday 5 June with the tourists set to face all five Australian Super Rugby Franchises and a combined NSW and Queensland Country team as part of their nine game tour.
The Qantas Wallabies will meet the Lions in three Tests, the first on Saturday 22 June at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, the second on Saturday 29 June at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne and the third and final Test in Sydney on Saturday 6 June at ANZ Stadium.
Tickets to the Tour that’s been 12 Years In The Making will go on sale across Australia at 9:00am on Monday 18 February local time, for more information visit www.rugby.com.au