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Pat McCabe's injury scare sparks boost from ACT Brumbies bench to Wallabies recall

Brumbies utility Pat McCabe is back in the Wallabies squad after twice breaking his neck.

Brumbies utility Pat McCabe is back in the Wallabies squad after twice breaking his neck. Photo: Getty Images

PRETORIA: He's broken his neck in his past two Test matches and, lying in an ambulance two months ago, ACT Brumbies back Pat McCabe again feared his rugby career might be over.

But Super Rugby's comeback king says that latest injury scare hardened him mentally, contributing to the form that has catapulted him from the Brumbies bench back into the Wallabies squad.

McCabe is set to make a remarkable Test comeback next month, named in a 32-man Wallabies squad for the three-match series against France.

The 20-Test Wallaby has opened up about his journey back from two broken necks, his sympathy for NRL player Alex McKinnon and his ambition to win back his Test spot.

McCabe broke his neck in his past two Tests for the Wallabies – one in November 2012 and then again in June last year. It triggered the darkest time of his career, when he lacked motivation and questioned his ability.

“I really didn’t enjoy myself at all last year and to be here loving footy again … it’s a very nice feeling,” McCabe said.

“Last year I never really felt like I was contributing or that I was overly confident in my ability to play well for the team.

“I felt like I was on the outer a bit because I wasn’t playing and I didn’t do pre-season, it wasn’t a great time for me. It was tough.

“I didn’t feel part of the group, I had my neck injury, my hamstring, my knee and then my neck again. To string a few games together this year and feel like I belong at this level, it’s given me a lot of satisfaction.”

Even so, McCabe said he was surprised when Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie called him on Wednesday to tell him he was in the squad.

It was only two months ago McCabe feared he would never play again when he suffered a neck injury in Perth and was taken to hospital

Stretchered off the field against the Western Force in March, McCabe now credits the knock for kick-starting his stellar form.

“That knock has actually given me confidence,” McCabe said.

“Once I got that big knock, had a scare and it was fine, it gave me confidence to know that I could survive. I do think where I’d be now if I’d broken my neck again.

“When I was in the ambulance I thought I’d played my last game. That was it. It was a scary and daunting proposition. But I’ve found a lot more enjoyment in the game this year.”

It’s not surprising McCabe’s heart sank when he saw McKinnon break his neck playing for the Newcastle Knights. McKinnon’s situation reminded McCabe how lucky he was.

“It was scary and I felt incredibly sorry for Alex," McCabe said. "Anyone who plays contact sport, that’s your worst nightmare.

“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 has been forced to move to the Brumbies bench to accommodate the ACT’s combination of Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano and Tevita Kuridrani. Despite that, his utility value is not under-rated at the Brumbies and he’s having his best season since 2011.

“Everyone wants to start … but I’m enjoying it and I feel like I’m making a contribution off the bench,” McCabe said.

“I’m just trying to make the most of it. I did think being on the Brumbies bench would mean that I wouldn’t be in the Wallabies squad ... to get in the Wallabies was a nice surprise.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said McCabe’s selfless attitude made him a “must have” for the Wallabies.

McCabe has proved his doubters wrong this season, adding new dimensions to his game and becoming the Brumbies’ most consistent performer.

“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,” Larkham said.

“He offers so much versatility … he’s someone you have to have in your team at that next level.”

McCabe laughs at references from teammates, dubbing him Super Rugby’s "Chuck Norris" because of his toughness.

“It doesn’t sit well. I’ve copped a bit about that, I don’t enjoy it,'' McCabe said.

“I don’t think I’m a tough guy. Everyone who plays Super Rugby, NRL or AFL has injuries. It’s part of the game and mine just happen to be two broken necks. I’m not special, I’m just trying to win.”

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
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