The potential departure of Wallabies flanker Sean McMahon won’t compromise his Test chances, coach Michael Cheika says.
McMahon is poised to make a call on his future in coming weeks, with speculation the 22-year-old is on the verge of signing a two-year deal in Japan
There have been reports the backrower has been frustrated by a lack of Wallabies game time and the ARU might have little cash to throw at him, with significant top-ups already handed to David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
Cheika said he had met with McMahon during a long injury layoff in a bid to keep him in Australia, but also listen to his thought processes.
“I certainly have met with him - he came up to Sydney for a day, worked with some of the physios when he was injured, and we went over it,” he said.
“He’s got strong reasons why he’s thinking about it and I respect those and understand those totally and as always with Sean, he’s a class act.
“I presented the counter-view and he understood that too and took it on board, for sure.”
Far from comprising his Test chances, Cheika said McMahon could even find himself in a position of leadership come June, despite the uncertainty over his future.
With Cheika endorsing Stephen Moore as skipper, he pointed out McMahon and Samu Kerevi has the next generation of leaders, a comment that might just show the impact the flanker’s potential departure could have on the Wallabies.
“As controversial as this might be considering he’s thinking about leaving, I think Sean McMahon would be an excellent leader of men,” he said.
“Like I said, that’s probably not kosher me saying that if he’s leaving or he might be leaving but I think that he’d be excellent.
“No matter what decision he makes, I’ll be looking at him taking that role if he’s in the squad.” - Michael Cheika
If he does head offshore, McMahon would be far from the only player preparing to move away, with Scott Fardy (Leinster), Rob Horne (Northampton) and Will Skelton (Saracens) already signing with European clubs for next season.
Cheika said that wouldn’t have an impact on his squads for June or the rest of the year.
“You’re not going to cut off your nose despite your face,” he said.
“They’re still Australian rugby players.
“People make decisions to go away and it’s almost hypocritical to bring back and play player who’s playing overseas, who’s signed here next year and then not play a player who’s signed here and going away.”
At the other end of the scale, Cheika said there could be a role for veteran George Smith in Wallabies camp in years to come.
Smith put his hand up for Test duty, ‘Stephen Bradbury style’ this week, but the possibility of the 111-Test backrower playing a mentoring role
The former Wasp was in England camp last year with Eddie Jones, as a breakdown specialist, and Cheika said his influence in years to come would be invaluable.
“While he’s playing now it might be a bit tough but for the next few years he’s a handy person to have around,” he said.
“You can’t have enough of experienced guys with great attitude like him to rub off on our younger players.”
The Wallabies play their first June Series Test on June 10 against Fiji in Melbourne, kicking off at 3pm AEST. For tickets, head to ticketek.com.au/wallabies.