Wallaby Pat McCabe is no ordinary rugby player

03:37, Aug 13 2014
Pat McCabe

He built his test rugby-playing reputation on running head down into contact, so perhaps it was no surprise Pat McCabe feared his career had finally hit a brick wall when a third neck injury left him hospitalised in Perth.

McCabe was just two games into the Super Rugby season that should have heralded his comeback from a fractured vertebrae suffered in the first test against the British and Irish Lions in June last year.

That pinnacle event was also a rehabilitation process for the 26-year-old because McCabe sustained the first scare with his neck in his previous cap against the French in Paris in November, 2012.

Initially the Brumbies and Wallabies utility back figured it was game over when he was stretchered off the Western Force's home ground on March 1, but his determination - and a favourable prognosis - changed his opinion.

"When I was in the ambulance I thought I'd played my last game and it was a scary and daunting proposition," he said.

"There were a few times where I had scans where if the injury didn't heal as (doctors) needed it to, it would have been the end.


"There were a few nervous moments amongst that, but each of the times after the healing period, it recovered well. They (doctors) were confident it had healed well enough to get back out there."

So ultimately the accident against the Force convinced him to play on, even if a wheelchair-bound Alex McKinnon gave him cause to reflect when the Newcastle Knights forward was paralysed by a tackle three weeks after McCabe's latest misfortune.

"It was heartbreaking to see and it just hit home the injuries I've had are pretty scary and they could have been a lot worse. Also, on the flip side I realise how lucky I am to still be playing and be able to make a Wallabies squad."

McCabe played two of the three tests against France in June off the bench and will start on the wing for the first time as a Wallaby in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship showdown in Sydney.

As he contemplated a shift from the midfield role he commanded under previous Wallabies coach Robbie Deans - a responsibility that consigned the undersized though big-hearted McCabe to sustained punishment - the law student again pondered how fortunate he was to be running on to ANZ Stadium.

"There's certainly been a lot of moments when I didn't think I'd ever be back here. I guess I've learned to enjoy the highs, but you realise the lows are never too far away," he said, after being named in a revamped back three with Israel Folau and Rob Horne.

McCabe started his career as a fullback and wing before Deans converted him to a crash-ball carrier and he was relishing the return to an area that gave him more scope to showcase his skills.

"I feel very comfortable on the wing, I've spent a lot of time there in the past and I'm hugely excited about the opportunity," he said, although marking Julian Savea instead of Ma'a Nonu would rarely be seen as cause for celebration.

Before his recall for the French series, McCabe had wondered if he would add to his 20 tests, particularly because he was downgraded to bench cover before the Brumbies' Super Rugby season ended with a semifinal defeat to the Waratahs.

Matt Toomua, Christian Leali'ifano, Tevita Kuridrani locked down the midfield while Henry Speight, Joe Tomane and Jesse Mogg were the first choice back three.

However, Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham appreciated McCabe's utility value and work ethic, ditto Ewen McKenzie.

"They need players like Pat in the Wallabies, guys who are unselfish. He is 100 per cent dedicated to the team, he will do whatever it takes to get on the field or win a game," said Larkham.

The Wallabies head coach added: "His skill set suits what we want to do," before putting Horne in the same bracket as a safe option under the high ball.

"They are uncompromising players on attack and defence, 80-minute type players and we know the All Blacks will kick the ball to us."