Green and gold background to Aussie derby

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Sunday’s Rebels-Waratahs clash will be played against a green and gold backdrop, as Wallabies contenders go head-to-head.

The battle at the breakdown will be one most keenly watched, as in-form Rebels flanker Sean McMahon faces off with incumbent Wallabies seven, Michael Hooper.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has sung the praises of McMahon and said his form would make it an intriguing battle for Test roles.

“He’s a pretty consistent guy and he’s going to get some challenges,” he said.

“There are plenty of other good back rowers going around at the moment and it’s going to be a really interesting battle for those spots.

Hooper welcomed the challenge of facing McMahon, in the sides’ only clash this season.

“There’s no shortage of great backrowers across Australia so every derby’s going to be a big matchup,” he said.

“Seany’s no different and only seeing them the once this year be a good hit out.

“I’m glad to see Seany doing well, getting some leadership experience, that will all add to the Wallaby outfit come the end of the year.”

In a potentially more intriguing fight, Rebels halfback Nic Stirzaker will start his first game of the year against Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps.

Phipps was an effective finisher for the Wallabies in the World Cup and with Will Genia headed overseas, though eligible to be selected with more than 60 Test caps to his name, looked to have first opportunity to fill the scrumhalf void.

"They’re playing for their clubs and they’re also, in the background, vying for an Australian jersey.
“That’s something everyone wants to have because it’s cherished."

Though there is reportedly still a chance for Genia to return in the June series, his longer-term heir, whomever that might be, is yet to assert himself.

Queensland’s Nick Frisby is another contender for that nine spot, having stepped up in the absence of Genia despite a winless start to 2016.

A number of Sunday’s combatants will feature in the first Wallabies camp of the year, bringing in roughly 50 players across the country as the England June Test series grows nearer.

There will be some entirely new faces in the camp, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said, including Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa and Stirzaker.

Cheika hopes those in the younger brigade take the opportunity with both hands, as the wider Wallabies contingent gets together over three days.

“The players are just getting a chance to go over a few things, touch base on a bit of mental prep and also for them to share a meal together and get together and start preparing," he said.

“It’s just another step up from the last morning after meets we had in March in preparation for the England series.”

Cheika said the players were hungry for the fight, with the battle for Test spots surely in the back of their minds.

“First, they’re playing for their clubs and they’re also, in the background, vying for an Australian jersey,” he said.

“That’s something everyone wants to have because it’s cherished.

“I know for guys like me who never got to play in the gold jersey that’s something that really means something.

“These guys, you don’t need to motivate them at all, they’re all hunting for that."