New Wallabies lock Matt Philip says a cross-country move changed him as a person and a player, as he prepares for his Test debut.
The 23-year-old did a preseason under Michael Cheika at the Waratahs in 2014, playing in the NSW U20s that year, before going on to play for Australia alongside now Test teammates Allan Alaalatoa, Tom Robertson and Reece Hodge.
A standout for Sydney Uni in the Shute Shield, Philip went to Perth and played for the Force, a two-season stint that he said had forced him to mature on and off the field.
“I was a bit of a different player and I think moving away from home over to Perth changed me to the type of player I am today,” he said.
“I think I've really matured and I'm a different player to the way i was back then.
“I was a little boy then - I'm a bit older now, I enjoy the physicality a bit more and I really like getting my hands on the ball and trying to carry over the advantage line a lot more.”
Philip will become the 25th Wallabies debutant since the 2015 World Cup if he makes it on against Japan, and it’s something he only held in his dreams at the start of this year.
The attitude Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has seen in him might have been embodied by the fact Philp hadn’t planned any end-of-season trips this year, ready to just put himself straight into Super Rugby preseason.
“I was pretty keen to get stuck back in with the (NRC side) Perth Spirit and get ready for the next Super Rugby season,” he said.
“I think I just wanted to build on this year.
“I feel like I really enjoyed playing Super Rugby this year and I wanted to get cracking into this preseason and try and prepare for next year.”
Whatever he was doing in Super Rugby caught Cheika’s eye, with the national coach monitoring his meteoric improvement.
“He's been at the Tahs in the 20s when I was there as a coach so I saw him there and I've seen him improve so much this year,” he said.
“He's got a little bit of mongrel in him as well, he's got a lot of go forward.
“'Every person I would've spoken to about the selection... spoke about how much he's improved and a player who's improved that much needs to come here.”
With the Wallabies missing Izack Rodda and Lukhan Tui, the opportunity was open for Blake Enever or Philip to step into the 23 and Cheika said it would only be a positive to have them in the fold.
“I think if we can discover another player or two on this tour that'll add to the bunch of guys we've got missing from the tour, it's only going to make better depth for us next season.”
Philip is yet to announce where he will be in 2018, but the Rebels under Dave Wessels are very keen to have the second rower in their fold.
Australia takes on Japan on Saturday November 4, kicking off at 2:40pm local, 4:40pm AEDT LIVE on FOX SPORTS.