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Pat McCabe back in Wallabies starting side after overcoming horror injury run

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When Pat McCabe recalls the blow to his neck when playing for the Brumbies against the Force in March, he admits he was scared his career was over.

As McCabe said on Tuesday after being named in the starting Wallabies side to play the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, the pain was similar to the second time he broke his neck – during last year’s British and Irish Lions series.

Asked how he fought the nerves of playing in contact after that second break – the first having occurred on the Wallabies 2012 spring tour of Europe – McCabe said: “It’s obviously nervous. My real scare came against the Force … I had a similar pain to when I had broken it the second time. I got rushed to hospital and scanned.”

But McCabe, 26, not only recovered from a knock that, thankfully, was not as serious as first feared, he went on to play impressively for the Brumbies all year.

So impressively, he earned two Wallabies caps off the bench against France in the Brisbane and Melbourne Tests in June, before Tuesday’s step up to being selected on the wing for the Wallabies run-on XV for the Bledisloe Cup opener.

McCabe, who has not started for the Wallabies since they lost to France in November, 2012, looks back on his scare in March as a turning point.


“Getting through that big knock and realising that it was fine was a huge confidence booster,” he said.

“The games following were probably some of my best for the year.

“Getting over that real testing moment and coming out fine … it’s a long way from my mind now. You play your 16 games of Super Rugby and it gets pretty well tested week in, week out. It’s feeling good now and, touch wood, I won’t have any worries.”

However, McCabe, who is three quarters through studying for a law degree at the University of Southern Queensland, said there had been times when he feared his playing career would never reach the heights it has.

“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," he said.

“There were a few nervous moments amongst that, but each of the times after the healing period, it recovered well. From that you just have to trust the medical advice.

“They were confident that it had healed well enough to get back out there. Here I am.”

The experience has also helped him appreciate opportunity, the latest being to play against the All Blacks for the fifth time of his career, and in a Wallabies back three with fellow winger Rob Horne and full-back Israel Folau – both from the Waratahs.

McCabe has played four games against the All Blacks, with one win, one draw and two losses. “You always come out – obviously exhausted, but thoroughly tested," he said. "Every aspect of your game gets challenged.”

Whatever the result, McCabe said he was grateful to be playing: “I’ve learnt to enjoy the highs, but you realise the lows are never too far away.

"You take those moments, take them with a grain of salt – enjoy them for what they are and enjoy the occasion.”

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