EXCLUSIVE: Sean McMahon pumped for Olympic sevens but reveals he's staying in Japan until 2023

Mens - Cape Town
by Iain Payten

Sean McMahon has got the gold-jersey bug back after his Aussie sevens return but only Giteau Law changes will see a similar Wallabies comeback, with the flanker revealing he has extended his Suntory contract to 2023.

McMahon is in Cape Town this week and will play for the Australian sevens team for the first time in five years, after Rugby Australia and Suntory struck a special deal that McMahon hopes will end with selection for the Olympics next year.

But McMahon despite admitting he “definitely” wants to play for the Wallabies again, it won't be any time soon under Rugby Australia’s current eligibility rules.

 

Speaking to RUGBY.com.au from Cape Town, the 25-year-old revealed he’d recently extended his stay at Suntory in the Top League for another three seasons.

"It got extended to 2023 at the start of the season. They’re a great club and they look after me, so when the chance came I took it again,” McMahon said.

"It was a tough call because I do still want to (play for Australia) and have aspirations to be throwing the gold jersey on. And being back around the (sevens) circuit this week, it does give you now a little bit more of that drive I guess.

“But at the same time the club has looked after me really well, and they have looked after my family really well the whole time we have been there. Which was a big thing for me, and I do get a lot of family time, as much as I am working hard as well.”

McMahon, who lives with wife Nia and their one-year-old son Mac in Tokyo, shocked Australian rugby when he left a promising Wallabies and Super Rugby career to play in Japan at the end of 2017.


With only 26 caps he doesn't qualify for the Wallabies' eligibility dispensation named after his Suntory teammate Matt Giteau, and he also turned down the chance to make the 2019 Rugby World Cup by signing to play for the Sunwolves during a Top League hiatus and not an Aussie team (foot surgery ultimately saw the deal cancelled).

McMahon is aware there is a review of the Giteau Law underway but said even if there is no change, he is still eyeing a return to Australia in the future. 

McMahon could conceivably return to Super Rugby, and potentially the Wallabies, ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

‘You never know, after the next couple of years with Suntory, what could happen on that front. I would only be getting to around 28 when I would be finishing up my next one,” McMahon said.

“If I continue to look after the body the way I am currently, and Japanese rugby has been good for me in refreshing my body and refreshing me mentally as well, in continuing to bring that love back for the game I had as a young boy playing.


"It’s been great for me so I definitely do have aspirations to come back to Australia at some stage.”

Prior to leaving for Japan in 2017, McMahon said in an interview he feared he would not be playing rugby at age 30 on his current trajectory, such was the damage he was doing to his body with his ultra-physical playing style.

SEVENS RETURN

For this weekend in Cape Town, and an unspecified number of World Series tournaments next year, McMahon is channeling all his patriotic energy into playing for the Aussie sevens team.

The return to sevens for McMahon - who played two seasons with the Aussie team from 2012-2014 - came after “what if” conversations with coach Tim Walsh became more concrete when Australia won qualification for the Olympics last month.

"Walshy basically just hit me up to see if I was interested and to see if we could work things out. Obviously me being with a Japanese side makes things a bit difficult because some of the tournaments I needed to play in were right in the middle of my season,” McMahon said.

"But we kept talking and we tried to work out a plan that worked for both parties, myself and Suntory, and Walshy and the boys, to make it work for me to have a chance to help the boys out with an Olympic run. It’s all happened pretty quickly as these things do.

“I have always wanted to continue to put the gold jersey on, and come back to sevens and have that chance.

"This is where it all started for me with my career, pulling on that gold jersey here. So it’s great to come back and throw it on and get back on the circuit.


"Obviously the Olympics is a bit of once in a lifetime so if I work hard enough and get that opportunity, that’s going to be something pretty exciting as well.”

NEW KID NERVES

McMahon says much has changed since he last played for the Australian sevens team in their bronze-medal-wining game at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Both in the game, and in his size too.

"From when I was playing I have got probably an extra ten kegs on me since then - I am feeling them a little bit,” McMahon laughed.

“Nah, it’s just something to get used to. The game is a bit faster, I haven’t played since the Comm Games in 2014. It just feels a bit faster, there are a few more plays involved now.

"And just getting used to that, especially in defence, the amount of space between you and your next defender.

"There is about five metres instead of the one metre you have in 15s. Just getting used to that again is probably going to be the toughest part for me but I always love a challenge so it will be interesting to see how it goes in the first game.”

McMahon said he won’t be easing into things, sticking to his lifelong mantra of “110 per cent or nothing”. But he admitted to some nerves about the suffering he is heading for.

"I think I am a bit nervous. Some say I am a bit of a sucker for punishment because the lungs are going to be absolutely stinging,” he said.


"Obviously sevens is known for its fast pace and how hard everyone is working, and I don't want to let anyone down by running out of gas there. So I am a bit nervous for my first one back, getting back into it. But I will do my absolute best for the boys."

McMahon's first taste of action will be with the Aussie team in their opening pool game against Ireland at 1.37am.