He's back: Sean McMahon to suit up for Aussie sevens team in Cape Town

Mens - Cape Town
by Iain Payten

Sean McMahon will be back in an Australian jersey next weekend after the dynamic flanker was cleared to play in the Aussie men’s sevens team in Cape Town.

Rugby Australia and McMahon’s Japanese club Suntory have struck a deal that will see the a 26-cap Wallaby join Tim Walsh’s Australian team for the second leg of the World Sevens Series.

In the first step of a potential inclusion in the Australian sevens team for the Tokyo Olympics next year, McMahon will fly to Cape Town and suit up for the Aussie team for the first time since 2014.

McMahon’s addition in South Africa will be a huge boost to the Australian men’s sevens team, who looked impressive in an unbeaten pool stage in Dubai but fell to Samoa in the quarter-finals.

The upside of strong form in the pool games was a fifth-placed finish, with rankings matches for positions between 5th and 8th now scrapped at combined men’s and women’s tournaments, and points-differential used instead.

McMahon doesn’t lack experience in sevens; he played two season with the Australian men’s sevens team between 2012 and 2014, before shifting across to XVs and Super Rugby for Melbourne in 2014, and then debuting for the Wallabies in 2015.

Walsh admitted before Dubai he was talking with McMahon and fellow Suntory-based Wallaby Samu Kerevi about having a crack at making the Aussie sevens team for the 2020 Olympics, given neither currently qualify for the Wallabies.

"Seanny and I have been in contact for a while about how to make it happen,” Walsh told RUGBY.com.au from Dubai.

"His desire to play for Australia is huge. It is very pleasing that Suntory have supported him and us for that, so we are very thankful.

"He is the sort of player I think … no, I know can add a lot of value. He has played a lot of sevens in the past and he is that bigger, powerful body that can complement the existing group that we have. And also just provide some more competition to the squad.

"He has that grit and competive nature, and you add that to his frame, it’s a great mix.

"There are no guarantees that he will make the Olympics, but you look at the way he plays and his experience, he is a world class player. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how quickly he can have an impact and return to the program.”

The agreement struck is only for McMahon to play in Cape Town at this stage but Walsh and Rugby Australia are continuing to talk with Suntory and McMahon’s camp about further tournaments in the season. There has been no update to the Kerevi conversation, which is, comparatively still in its infancy.

Walsh said McMahon would see plenty of game time in Cape Town but the Aussie program has already been in contact with Suntory to share training data and mutually beneficial plans.

It turns out McMahon is already “sevens fit” given Japanese clubs currently nearing the end a long pre-season training block, Walsh said. The Top League delayed its kickoff until January, following the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

"We are certainly going to look after him in every way possible, and do what’s right for Sean and Suntory. We are very grateful of the relationship we have with them,” Walsh said.

"We have been going through his GPS data already, and all his loadings leading into the tournament and they match up really well in terms of how we maximise our prep, and also Suntory’s. 

"One of the key tests for our measurements and fitness is that ‘bronco’ (shuttle-run) test, and Seanny actually did it last week as part of Suntory’s training. And he killed it. He is actually sevens fit. He is in great shape."

Walsh said despite the bitter disappointment of losing to Samoa in the quarter-final, he was encouraged by what he saw from the Aussie team in Dubai, where they performed strongly in three pool wins over Scotland, Ireland and the USA.

"We didn’t play badly. Samoa and Australia are two very contrasting teams and it is just about who can nullify the other. We tackled really well but when we had our opportunities to put it away and add points to the scoreboard, we didn’t take them,” Walsh said.

“Definitely encouraging though, the way our players have matured and really worked on different parts of their game, even their reaction to winning and losing, is different (from last season)

"They have become a lot more steady as a team, mentally, and tougher. I know it doesn’t reflect in yesterday’s results but I was impressed with the way they handled themselves, the way they’re seeing the game, the way they’re preparing. I am encouraged by where we can go from here in the World Series.”

Walsh said was pleased with the debut of Trae Williams, who didn’t see much ball but answered plenty of questions about his ability to handle the World Sevens Series.

"We will look at playing him a lot more in Cape Town. Wonderful first touch but very limited opportunities in attack. We need to see him out and using his weapons a lot more, and building those combinations,” Walsh said.

"But his defence and work rate is incredible. He has got a lot of areas to work on but the things that we were probably worried about going into it, the contact area and just the understanding of the game side, but he went on there and he was spot on.”

Australia sit in fifth place on the world rankings after the opening round.

Despite finals for placings between 5th and 8th being scrapped at combined mens/women’s tournaments, their high-scoring pool form saw them ranked as the ‘best’ of the losing quarter-finalists.

The upside of bombing out to Samoa is they’ll hit Cape Town fresh after only playing four games in Dubai.

Incredibly, Fiji sit in 9th after missing the playoffs in the World Sevens Series for the first time in the 21-year history of the tour.