As if the Wallabies need another world-beater of an open-side flanker! Sean McMahon, a 21-year-old Australian age-group captain picked for the World Cup ahead of some vastly more experienced back-row hands, tore the hapless amateurs of Uruguay to shreds in Birmingham yesterday and in the process gave England’s rugby team an unpleasant reminder that even if Michael Hooper and David Pocock get themselves lost en route to Twickenham this weekend, the visitors will still be equipped to strip them bare in the loose.
Not that the youngster from Brisbane was up against much in the way of competition here. His opposite number, Matias Beer, was so thin you could have knitted with him. When Beer tried to pick a fight with the Wallaby scrum-half Nick Phipps towards the end of a predictably one-sided encounter, he was just about in the right weight division. When Dean Mumm, the Wallaby captain, turned up, Beer was out of his class.
Still, there was so much to enjoy about McMahon’s all-court game, it was possible to think the Hooper-Pocock duopoly may come under threat sooner than anyone might think. “We have some pretty influential people in the No 7 position, but as long as Sean keeps rattling their cages, he’ll keep them honest – and keep himself honest too,” said the Wallaby head coach, Michael Cheika. “I’m proud of his performance.”
McMahon started like a train, scoring the first of 11 Australian tries as early as the seventh minute before launching the move that led to Joe Tomane’s touchdown no more than 90 seconds later. And he was still at it in the final quarter, latching on to the back of a driving line-out maul and finishing under a heap of bodies.
It was routine stuff, to be frank: Uruguay, armed with only four professional players and dotted with graphic designers, agronomy students and tradesmen of various stripes, offered little except a decent scrum-half in Agustin Ormaechea – the son of the revered No 8 Diego, the country’s record cap-holder and biggest rugby name – and a fathomless well of bravery.
There was something to be said for their commitment in the loose, but the Wallabies nullified them easily enough in the mauls – supposedly the strong point of Los Teros’ game – and flayed them alive in open field. Whenever Quade Cooper was granted sufficient space to flick passes short and long to the angle-cutting runners on either shoulder, a try was close to inevitable.
Cooper did not deliver fully, however. As beautiful as some of his passing may have been – and his linkage with Kurtley Beale in the build-up to Matt Toomua’s late try was truly something to behold – he had a seriously rough day on the kicking front, missing half a dozen shots at the sticks. This will not endear him to Cheika as the coach weighs his outside-half options ahead of the intense set-to with England this coming Saturday night.
He also paid one of his increasingly regular visits to the sin bin following a high tackle on the busy Ormaechea – a departure that set in train Uruguay’s best spell of the game. Australia did not score while they were playing a man short, while the South Americans registered a presence on the scoreboard through Felipe Berchesi’s penalty.
Cheika was even less impressed with the decision of the French referee Pascal Guezere to banish the outside-half than he was with Cooper’s marksmanship and promised to appeal it. “We think it was hard on Quade,” he said.