Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has sprung a big surprise for the first Test against England, naming journeyman lock Cadeyrn Neville to start in his Test debut.
At 33 years and 235 days, Neville will become the third oldest Wallabies debutant since World War II when he takes the field in Perth on Saturday.
The Brumbies giant, who stands 2.02m and weighs 120kg, has been picked in Test training squads since 2012 without being able to crack the match-day squad until now.
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Neville rowed for Australia at the Youth Olympics and only took up rugby after leaving school in 2009.
He played his Super Rugby for the Rebels and Reds before joining the Brumbies and has also had stints in Japan.
Most observers expected Rennie to opt for Darcy Swain and Matt Philip as his starting second row pairing but now a battle-scarred veteran gets the opportunity of a lifetime.
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“It’s hard to sum up all the ways it would be special to me,” Neville said of a possible Test debut after being named in the squad to play in England.
“I’ve had a taste of it in various forms over the years but it’s good to just go through the season and be named in that squad and just come in sort of the orthodox way.
“I’d definitely relish it, I’m keeping focused on the work that I still need to do to get there. I’m keen to rip in.”
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Neville is not the most glamorous player going around but his big frame and experience will certainly come in handy in the tight exchanges.
Wallabies forwards coach Dan McKellar highlighted Neville’s qualities after he re-signed with the Brumbies and Rugby Australia earlier this year.
“He’s had some bad luck with injuries at times but when fit, he’s been one of our best since 2020 and with his experience, he’s invaluable to our locks who are still honing their craft,” McKellar said.
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“Cadeyrn’s contribution around the environment, in team meetings and just his professionalism is something people don’t see and has a tremendous impact on the group.”
The Wallabies will name their full team at 1.15pm AEST on Thursday.
Star prop Taniela Tupou is not expected to be included as he continues his recovery from a serious calf injury.
Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa is a reliable presence at tighthead but McKellar admitted Tupou’s explosive abilities would be missed against a rugged England pack.
“It’s a big part of their DNA, isn’t it, the set piece and that physicality and brutality and it’s something we’re trying to bring to this group of forwards here,” McKellar said.
“They’ll be strong at set piece – Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Jamie George – they’re world class. It’s an enormous challenge for us.”
The no nonsense coach also reiterated his ambitions for a developing pack that is hoping to peak at next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
“We’re trying to develop a mindset here of having the best maul in the world,” McKellar said.
“That takes time, there’s five groups of players that come from different franchises and they all do it differently, so the buy in and thirst for it has been obvious from my end.”
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