Wallabies visit campus in prep for World Cup
Daniel O'Boyle | Friday, September 4, 2015
Students might have seen some new faces and accents from down under in the past week, as the Australia National Rugby Union Team held practices at Notre Dame in preparation for its World Cup warm up game against the United States on Saturday at Soldier Field.
Fresh off a victory in the Rugby Championship earlier this summer, the Wallabies — two-time World Cup champions and among the favorites for this year’s competition — practiced on Riehle Fields, adjacent to the Stepan Center.
The Australian kickers held a clinic Monday, teaching some students how to kick a rugby ball before engaging in a series of practices. Twenty-one year-old flanker Sean McMahon — set to make his first start for the Wallabies in Chicago — said he was very impressed by the facilities at Notre Dame.
“We come out, we run two field sessions as units, and then a field and a bit of gym, using the ice hockey gym which is pretty awesome,” McMahon said. “The facilities there are really great, and it was good to work there.”
Although the team has spent most of its time in practice as the World Cup approaches, McMahon said he and the rest of the team did have a chance to see some of the sights around campus.
“It’s been a really busy week here training,” said McMahon.“It’s been really hot and the humidity makes things difficult, but Notre Dame’s been unreal. We’ve been biking around campus on the bikes from the hotel having a look around campus, getting to see Touchdown Jesus, Notre Dame Stadium and all the other sites. It’s been awesome.
“I didn’t know too much about Notre Dame, I just knew that they had a pretty good football team, so I was pretty excited to come to the stadium and all that, which was pretty cool.”
Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika said he was similarly impressed with the facilities, and he also mentioned the school’s culture has created the perfect situation for his team.
“It’s been brilliant really,” Cheika said. “I couldn’t have imagined everything would be as good as it’s been. The whole set-up here at Notre Dame is so conducive to excellence. I think that especially being here the week before they play Texas really let us see Notre Dame at its best.
“We’ve mostly managed to get all of our work done without much distraction. There have been some times when we’ve gone into Starbucks in fluorescent jerseys and got some funny looks, but things have really been ideal here.”
The game against the Eagles — the U.S. national team — will be the last match for the Wallabies before the World Cup begins in England and Wales later in September, and McMahon said he believes the game will be important for everyone involved.
“It’s a very important match,” McMahon said. “With the World Cup around the corner, it’s very important to focus ourselves and get ready for the World Cup so we can dominate our pool, and as I’ve said before, the important thing is we’ve just got to execute our game plan.”
McMahon also said he was particularly excited to receive his first ever start for the Wallabies in the United States and at Soldier Field.
“I’m super excited to finally get a start this year,” said McMahon. “It’s a great place to finally get a start in, at Soldier Field. It’s also the first ever game where I’ll get to play 15-a-side in America, so I’m really excited about that.”
With the game serving as a last opportunity to try something new before the World Cup begins, Cheika said the Wallabies may look a little different than the one that won the Rugby Championship, but will still be very strong.
“What we did was just pretty much take a look at the guys who’ve already accumulated a lot of time in the Rugby Championship and give them a little time off,” said Cheika. “They’ve already played a good amount of rugby before this World Cup starts, and we’ve got a few guys that I have in mind for the first game that I want to see play together, and then a few guys who I just want to give an opportunity to, so I think that this team is a really good mix.”
The Wallabies take on the United States on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago at 6:30 p.m.