Cheika's public declaration to 'outstanding' McMahon

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will be doing everything in his power to ensure Sean McMahon is part of Australia’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign.

McMahon made a return to his ‘Mad Dog’ moniker in Dunedin on Saturday, leading the Wallabies in carries and making 11 tackles, among the best of his 16 career Tests.

The display made fans wonder why the 23-year-old is on the verge of leaving Australia for two years, a span that will include the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

And punters weren’t alone.

Cheika wasted no time in talking up McMahon post-match and spontaneously making the 23-year-old’s, still yet to be announced, Japanese club very nervous.

McMahon's deal is an interesting case, not beginning until the 2018-19 Top League season, with the possibility that he could play both in Japan and Australia in a World Cup year, pending approval from his Japanese club and also his ability to find a Super Rugby home ahead of the tournament.

The Queenslander has until now, though, said he'd all but closed the door on the possibility of a World Cup role in 2019.

“There's a word for Sean McMahon tonight, that was outstanding. He was truly outstanding, he just gave it everything,” he said.

“That's the Sean McMahon we know and that's why I'll be aiming all guns towards Japan to try and get his contract torn up over there or something like that.

“I don't care what it takes to make him stay here because we want him here."

Asked whether he thought there was some prospect of McMahon reneging on his deal or making himself available for the World Cup, Cheika said he wasn’t sure.

“Nope, just made it up now,” he said.

“Maybe sometimes it's nice to say publicly how badly we want a player to stay here.

“We love him and we want him to keep playing like that in the gold jersey.”

The Wallabies mentor did attempt to convince McMahon to stay in Australia before he signed a new deal, but with Test captain Michael Hooper and David Pocock on the payroll, there was little wriggle room for McMahon.

Cheika has shown he can be persuasive when it comes to bringing players home but McMahon wasn’t giving anything away when asked about the prospect of cutting short his Japan deal, despite his coach's public declaration.

“I love getting an opportunity to put the gold jersey on and it's great to hear comments like that. But you can't let anything like that go to your head,” - Sean McMahon.

“You've got to focus on game to game and right now, I'm focusing on the next game and getting another opportunity for the gold.

“Down the track, if the opportunity comes back for me to come back, that might happen, but right now I'm focusing on the next game over in Perth, and at the end of the year, I'll focus on when I go to Japan.

“I'll just keep playing each week and if I can keep putting performances on like that, it might be something in the future that can change the opportunity for me to come back and as you said, shift the pieces around for me to get that opportunity.”

An element that could factor in for McMahon is the relationship the Wallabies squad is building, something he has spruiked often.

“There's a different feeling around the squad at the moment than there has been in previous years that I've been part of it, he said.

“I think the camaraderie... you talk about the new boys who come in, how easy it's been for them to fit in and just focus on doing their job and how the boys are just getting around them straight away,” he said.

 “There's still a few things out there, we've missed a few roles individually that's just probably put the pressure on ourselves in the end. But if we can all keep focusing on taking another step and another step into doing our jobs correctly, it's only going to make this team better.

The court of public opinion has swung the Wallabies way after the exhilarating Test, but McMahon said they couldn’t care less what people were saying about them, after a week in which rugby fans had shown plenty of vitriol

“As a team we had the belief the whole time,” Sean McMahon.

“Last week was disappointing to us but we came together as a circle and as we keep talking about, we're focusing on ourselves.

“What other people have to say about us, we couldn't give two s***, to be honest.

“We've got to focus on doing our game and not listening to the outside crew.

“Tonight proved that if we just focus on ourselves and our own game, we can continue to build.”

The Wallabies flew back to Australia on Sunday, ahead of a September 9 Test against the Springboks in Perth.