Loose-head prop Ben Alexander will make a stunning full professional debut when he lines up for Australia against Italy on Saturday.
What makes the 24-year-old’s full debut so incredible is that he has never yet started a professional match for his club side ACT Brumbies.
On top of that, Alexander is lucky just to be able to run out onto a rugby pitch having snapped his right leg three years ago.
“I ended up getting an embolus in my lungs from the bone marrow getting into my bloodstream, and if it had gone to my brain, it would have killed me,” he said.
“I couldn’t breathe properly. For a few weeks, I just sat in hospital and they couldn’t operate on me as they tried to straighten my leg. They tried to put a cast on my leg, and it wouldn’t get any better.
“The cast was put on as they didn’t want to operate because of the embolus. After a week, I couldn’t move.
“I had bed sores all up and down my back. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t go to the bathroom for days on end, because every time I tried to get up, the cast was so big it was pulling my leg apart.” This will not be Alexander’s first appearance for the Wallabies as he twice came off the bench to face France back in June but given he is behind Brumbies props Guy Shepherdson and Nic Henderson at his club, this rise to international stardom has been as meteoric as it is surprising.
But despite his lack of club playing time, coach Robbie Deans has decided his lack of experience will not be a stumbling block.
“Even though I haven’t played over the last four or five months, I still believe I’ve improved,” said Alexander. “Robbie has kept telling me over the months to treat every week as if you’vee played, and I’ve done that.
“All the training I’ve put in, that will come out on the weekend. I just want to get out onto the field and put everything I’ve learnt into practice.” He’s not the only surprise as Matt Giteau lines up on the bench with Berrick Barnes starting at number 10.
However Giteau is going to be used as back-up for scrum-half Luke Burgess as youngsters James O’Connor and Quade Cooper are the other replacement backs.
Cooper is just 20 but at 18, O’Connor would become the second youngest Wallaby of all time if he were to come off the bench.
Italy coach Nick Mallett has also been changing things around, abandoning his experiment of using Biarritz centre Andrea Massi at fly-half, which he did throughout the Six Nations earlier this year.
Instead, Massi has been pushed to full-back while Treviso’s Andrea Marcato will line up at number 10, as he did in Italy’s June internationals, and continue to try to cement his name on the back of that jersey.
He is just one of a string of curious changes South African Mallett has made among the backs.
Mirco Bergamasco switches to the left wing as Gonzalo Garcia comes into centre to partner Gonzalo Canale.
“The selection of Maracato is not the only change, the choice of Mirco Bergamasco on the wing, with an untried centre pairing of Garcia and Canale, with (right-wing Kaine) Robertson completing the line-up comes from the desire to put onto the field a three-quarter line that is solid, effective and with a lot of international experience,” said Mallett.
“Andrea Masi, who’s playing full-back for the first time under me, also has more than 40 caps and nine years playing for the national team.” The selection of Marcato for such an important position is probably Mallett’s biggest risk, but he is sure the local lad will come good.
“I know that Andrea is from Padova, as are four other starters on Saturday (Leonardo Ghiraldini, Marco Bortolami, and Mauro and Mirco Bergamasco) and I think that playing in front of his own people will give him extra motivation.”