Houston called up for injured McMahon

Date published: October 3 2016

Australia are likely to call on Leroy Houston to make his debut against Argentina in London on Saturday.

The New Zealand born number eight, who moved to Australia in 2000, was called up to the Australian squad on Monday as a replacement for Sean McMahon, who suffered an ankle injury in the Test against South Africa.

Houston, who re-signed for the Reds earlier this year, looks set to make his Test debut despite his late call up to the squad as Argentina host the Wallabies at Twickenham in final Rugby Championship match of the season.

Coach Michael Cheika confirmed Houston has a strong chance to earn his first cap – potentially off the bench – with Australia’s back-row stocks having taken another blow in the wake of David Pocock’s hand injury.

Houston will likely be competing with Melbourne Rebels powerhouse Lopeti Timani for the vacant number eight jersey, with the other favoured to earn a bench spot.

“Lopeti is a bit of a mix – he can play six, lock or number eight, whereas Leroy will have more of the experience around carrying the ball from the back of the scrum, managing that part of the game,” Cheika said on Monday.

“(Houston’s) an excellent ball player, ball carrier and he puts his heart and soul into it as well. I’ll be looking for him to have a big couple of days here and put himself in the frame.”

Houston looked destined for a lengthy stint in the green and gold when he was called up by then-coach Eddie Jones as a project player for the 2005 tour of Europe before he’d made his Super Rugby debut.

But not only did he not earn his first cap on that tour, the pressure soon told on the then-18-year-old, who struggled with homesickness and expectation.

Since 2011 he’s been plying his trade throughout Europe, forging a fearsome reputation for English Premiership side Bath in the past four years.

He returned to Australia this year to join the Reds and was called upon by Cheika to take part in training camps in June and August.

“I think once he gets used to the southern way again, he’ll be a real contender,” Cheika said.

“The one thing Leroy is, is a very good footballer. He understands the game, he’s a traditional number eight. We’ve mixed and matched in that position over the past year or so. He’s definitely a player I’m looking at, not just this year but going forward for the next couple of years as well.”