NEW Wallaby Matt Philip admits he was a “little boy” in the uncompromising arts of forward play when he first had a taste of the coach who has backed him for a Test debut from nowhere in Yokohama on Saturday.
The 117kg lock is essentially the last gift from the now-defunct Western Force in Super Rugby and an emblem for how five Australian teams worked in terms of flushing fringe players into the professional system.
The best have grabbed their breaks and Philip, 23, is a great example because he turned heads from the start of this season with his strong all-purpose displays as a forward for the Force.
A bullocking run or three, jolting tackles, mobility, grabbing some lineouts, working well with brawny lock partner Adam Coleman … all solid ticks.
He has been a standout because Michael Cheika revealed Australia’s Super Rugby coaches all had the same view that he was a big improver when the Wallabies coach informally canvassed their thoughts recently on selection options.
In another period of Australian rugby, Philip might still have been playing for Perth Spirit against the Canberra Vikings in Canberra on Saturday in a semi-final of the National Rugby Championship.
Cheika has borrowed Bob Dwyer’s old Captain Cook cloak to discover new players to build depth heading towards the 2019 World Cup. Philip will be the 25th new Wallaby in just 18 months should he get on the field as a reserve against Japan in Yokohama on Saturday as expected.
“I’m stoked to be here and keen to get stuck in. It’s a very different week to think I’m playing for the Wallabies not against them,” Philip said of getting a run for the Barbarians in the pre-tour game in Sydney.
“I got the call last Sunday night. I was obviously over the moon and packed the bags straight away to go into camp.
“Obviously, you have this in your mind as a goal, at the very top end, but to be honest my job this year was to just make a Western Force starting jersey my own.”
Philip played Shute Shield with Sydney University and won Australian Under-20s honours which put him under Cheika’s gaze when the NSW Under-20s did some pre-season training with the Waratahs in 2014.
“I did a bit of a pre-season under Cheik but moving away from home changed me into the type of player I am today,” he said.
“I was a little boy then. I enjoy the physicality more now and getting my hands on the ball to carry over the ad-line.”
When Philip was a late recruit to the Force last year to beef-up their lock stocks, he also took on an end-of-season stint with Southland in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup to develop more hard-edge forward skills.
The effort has paid off and now to deliver on what Cheika sees in his 1.99m frame.
“He’s got a bit of mongrel in him and a lot of go-forward and if we can find another player or two on this tour it can only make our depth better,” Cheika said.