"I want to return the favour by playing well" ... recalled Wallabies centre Pat McCabe. Photo: Getty Images
THERE are a few players Robbie Deans treats like pure gold. One is Adam Ashley-Cooper because of his ability to excel in so many back-line positions, unselfish nature and belief in the national cause.
Another is Pat McCabe. The Wallabies coach was widely criticised when he introduced McCabe to the Test arena, including complaints that the Brumbies midfielder was limited. But Deans was captivated by McCabe's fearless nature, intelligent outlook and willingness to do anything his coach wanted him to do.
He understands the importance of running direct attacking lines. He was also willing to be a battering ram, which meant McCabe's body was often pounded.
Yet McCabe always provides exactly what Deans ask of him - bringing direction and purpose to an often flighty Wallabies attack. In just his second full season with the Wallabies, McCabe found himself part of the team's leadership group - another indicator that the hierarchy regard him as a special personality.
How important McCabe is to Deans was shown this week when the coach brought him back into the starting line-up for tomorrow night's Test against Argentina on the Gold Coast as soon as he had recovered from a foot stress fracture.
A 30-minute stint in the Canberra grand final last weekend was more than enough for McCabe to convince Deans he was ready, after missing the first three matches of the Rugby Championship.
Usually Deans is careful when bringing players back from injury, with the usual route being via the bench. Not McCabe.
The Wallabies' No.12 jersey was quickly tossed his way. Deans just knows how single-minded McCabe can be, especially during last year's World Cup campaign when he suffered a serious shoulder injury that should have had him sent home during the tournament. But McCabe worked so hard to get back on the field that he was allowed to stay in New Zealand and he eventually returned, playing a crucial role in the Wallabies' quarter-final win over the Springboks.
And now he wants to repay his coach, who is so relieved to have McCabe-Ashley-Cooper as his centre combination to confront a fearless opponent.
''Getting the call-up was a nice surprise because I thought it would be another week or so away,'' McCabe said yesterday.
''It is a big vote of confidence from Robbie that he thinks I can come straight back in and play well. I really do appreciate that and I want to return the favour by playing well against Argentina. I feel physically that I am again ready to go.''
McCabe also believes that despite the Wallabies being somewhat stilted in their attack this season, there should be opportunities against the Pumas.
''They have been hugely impressive so far and are an extremely physical team. They are a side which loves firing in and disrupting opposition ball. So you just know it is going to be a hugely physical contest.
''But they do get relatively narrow in defence and because they commit so hard to the breakdown it does create some chances for us. So we'll hopefully throw the ball around a bit. If we are effective at the breakdown, we will be able to do that.''
McCabe's persistence may also have a lot to do with his background. He was another in the long line of promising players the Waratahs let go. While a member of the Waratahs academy in 2007, McCabe was told he probably wouldn't make it in Super Rugby. That didn't deter McCabe, who worked on his speed and skills while playing for the Warringah Rats and in 2009 was lured to the Brumbies. Then Deans saw him and so for the umpteenth time in recent decades, a Sydney cast-off became part of the Wallabies' inner sanctum.