It took Waratahs lock Ryan McCauley a little time to process the news that he would be handed a potential Super Rugby debut.
The 20-year-old, who is the Waratahs’ youngest player, has been named on the bench for NSW’s final home game, against the Jaguares, but at first he didn’t even realise he was in the 23.
“I was sitting in the team room and they were naming the bench, I sort of zoned out after he (Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson) named no. 19 because that’s the traditional lock spot,” he said.
“Then I just heard this clapping and the word ‘debutant’ and I was like, ‘That’s me’.”
“I was pretty overwhelmed. It’s a big honour and I want to do the state and the team proud.”
McCauley, who now stands at 203cm, figured his frame might be more suited to rugby.
After growing up playing rugby league, he switched to the 15-man game with the Coogee Seahorses.
It didn’t take long for him to find his way in the new code.
“I just thought I’d give it a crack and when I got a bit older, tried to stick with both but I realised I’m quite tall, I’m quite suited to playing union and thought it would be a smarter move for myself,” he said.
“There was just so many more dimensions to it than league and I really enjoy playing it.”
His switch has paid off, with McCauley one of the stars in the recent U20s World Championship, his second year in the junior side and an opportunity that he relished.“With the 20s this year, it was great to be able to step up into a bit of a senior position, with the lineout and set piece and stuff.
“That was great to be able to become a bit more of a senior player in the team.
“That was a good experience to be able to be in that environment and when you come back here, you’re back in this environment and just try to listen and do your job as well.”
That U20s program has pushed through a handful of promising locks in recent years, including Queensland duo Izack Rodda and Lukhan Tui, the latter invited into the Wallabies fold in June.
When McCauley is at Moore Park, he’s happy to be the young buck, keen to soak knowledge off soon-to-be retired Dean Mumm whenever he has the chance.
“I always try and ask Dean if he wants to sit down and look at some footage and ask him some questions,” he said.
“It’s nothing too formal, sometimes just get some clips together and say, ‘What should I have done better’, ‘If you were in my shoes, what would you be doing now?’ just able to think about that and continue asking questions.
“I’ve spoken to Daryl about that and he wants me to really sponge off that these next couple of weeks.”
The Waratahs take on the Jaguares on Saturday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.