World Cup-winning former Wallabies hooker Michael Foley has backed rookie Nathan Charles to rise to the challenge of his maiden start against the All Blacks next weekend.
With just two appearances off the bench to his name, Charles is the heir apparent to the No.2 jersey vacated by an injured Tatafu Polota-Nau, who will miss at least the first Test against New Zealand in Sydney and potentially the re-match in Auckland a week later.
Queensland hooker James Hanson is also an option and Polota-Nau's understudy at the Waratahs, Tolu Latu, has been brought into the training squad. But Charles's involvement in the Wallabies' three-Test clean sweep of France in June suggests he is Ewen McKenzie's next choice.
Foley coaches Charles at the Force and sat down with the 25-year-old before he joined the Wallabies in preparation for the Rugby Championship, which will pit Australia against the top two teams in the world and an increasingly competitive Argentina.
"The point we discussed is whenever you get chosen in a representative team, particularly a national team - whether you're the starting-, second- or third-choice option - it's important to see yourself as someone who's chasing rather than someone who's arrived," Foley said.
"That helps guard against complacency, which Nathan wouldn't be in danger of anyway, and it also forces you to confront the fact that you have to constantly improve."
Charles was nothing but excited about the potential of playing New Zealand and pitting himself against 113-Test veteran Keven Mealamu, saying both both he and Hanson were ready for the challenge.
"I think the idea of chucking a gold jersey on, it's probably seen as a bit of a suit of armour," he said.
"You just want to run a million miles an hour. Whatever comes your way, you'll be ready for it."
Charles is known as a technically strong set piece practitioner with a pinpoint-accurate line out throw and very high fitness levels. His contribution to the Force pack was central to the side's success this season. The perennial Australian strugglers set a new club record with nine wins this season and missed out on a play-off spot by two points.
Charles and Hanson have 126 Super Rugby caps between them but just three Test matches between them and not a single start.
They will face an All Blacks front row boasting the likes of Mealamu, Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock and others. New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will be taking note of the imbalance.
"Without having much experience in the Test arena, we know what's involved," Charles said.
"In the front row especially, maturity is a big thing - how to handle situations when they do go wrong, or how to take the most out of something when it goes your way. That's where we can prosper.
"We're not going to go into our shells. If we need to stand up and lead the front row and the scrum, we definitely will. What the team loses in valuable Test experience, we'll more than make up with energy and enthusiasm."
Foley, who earned 50 Test caps in the gold jersey, said it was important Charles backed himself against the All Blacks.
"It's a great opportunity to take his game to the next level. No one expects him to go out there and play his best ever game of Test football, but his ability to attack the challenge aggressively is important," Foley said.
"There will be moments in the game when he's sat on his backside and he has to dust himself off, get back in there and rip in again. The more he does that the more he'll enjoy it."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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