Fate has put Luke McLean on a collision course with old Aussie teammates as he aims to celebrate his 50th Test cap with the “biggest victory in Italian history” this weekend.
McLean will line up against the Wallabies for the sixth time in his Azzurri career in Turin, seven years after playing with Will Genia and Nick Cummins for the Australian Under-19s.
He’s also expected to be bombarded at fullback or on the wing by one-time Brisbane Souths clubmate Quade Cooper, who’ll be launching attacking bombs for Israel Folau.
But if McLean and his Italian teammates can rise to the occasion at Stadio Olympico on Sunday morning (AEDT), he staunchly believes they can continue the Wallabies’ annus horribilis.
Australia have never lost to Italy in 15 meetings but, after a 3-8 record in 2013, they find themselves vulnerable against a team that upset both France and Ireland in this year’s Six Nations.
As big as those home wins were, McLean says the Azzurri’s first “Tri-Nations” scalp would be more meritorious.
“It would probably be the biggest victory in Italian history,” he said.
“To take the scalp of the fourth-best team in the world, and the Wallabies – who have won the World Cup twice – everyone knows the importance and how difficult it will be to come away with the win.”
Under Frenchman Jaques Brunel, Italy have closed the gap against the top nations and Wallabies veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper believes the powerful Azzurri pack will be licking their lips.
Italy almost stole a win against Australia last year before falling 22-19, and finishing off rivals is now their big focus post-Six Nations.
“We obviously have to prove to ourselves, and the Italian public as well, that we are on the right track,” the lanky back said.
“The best way to do it is win those close games.”
But McLean doesn’t view Australia as a wounded beast ready to be picked off easily by smaller animals.
“You have to put it into perspective, (New Zealand and South Africa) are playing top-notch rugby and Australia has definitely improved since the season has gone on,” he said.
“They are a quality team and we have to be on our game because if you give their backs a bit of room they can run riot and we saw that in Argentina (54-16).”
Townsville-born McLean, who qualifies to play for the Azzurri through an Italian grandmother, hasn’t looked back since leaving Perth in late 2007.
He found it strange to hear the Australian national anthem the first time he played the Wallabies, but now he’s unfazed.
“Once you get out on the field it’s 15 vs 15 and you see them as the opposition and you want blood,” he said.
“After being in Italy for so long now (I’m more Italian), even my girlfriend keeps telling me I’m losing my English.”