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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
The Growden Report
Pat McCabe deserves the highest praise
Greg Growden
March 10, 2014
The Brumbies' Pat McCabe runs with the ball, Western Force v Brumbies, Super Rugby, nib Stadium, Perth, March 1, 2014
Pat McCabe is in fine form this season © Getty Images
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He has been used as a battering ram. He has been forced to undergo the most selfless of tasks. His footballing career has repeatedly been assumed to be over - not surprising considering he has broken his neck twice. But he just keeps producing.

Ignore the "we showed the critics" theatrics after Western Force's victory, considering their opponents, a lifeless Rebels outfit, performed as if they had travelled from Melbourne to Perth by camel with several days on the ran-tan in Kalgoorlie. The true hero of Super Rugby round four was Brumbies midfielder Pat McCabe, who produced easily the most courageous performance of the season when he ran the Hurricanes off the paddock at the Cake Tin.

Virtually every time the Brumbies had possession, there was McCabe making the break, charging down the field, or setting up his team-mates. There were constant mad dashes, extensive runs, interspersed with his usual dazzling tackling skills.

What made this performance even more extraordinary was the fact that he appeared doomed just six days earlier to finishing the season, even his career, prematurely. McCabe was in a Perth hospital, fearing he had suffered yet another serious neck injury. He had been hit hard midway during the Force match, and was taken straight to hospital for scans.

McCabe and the Brumbies medical staff were naturally concerned; after all, he had broken his neck during the Wallabies' European tour in November 2012, and again during last year's British & Irish Lions Test series. McCabe admitted to thinking on his way to hospital last weekend that he had just been involved in his last game. However, he had instead suffered a muscle strain and, a few days later, he was allowed him to make himself available for the Brumbies' New Zealand trip.

Many thought him stark raving mad. Was this one warning too many? But there he was undergoing a fitness test just before the Hurricanes match, and voila, with head gear in place, he took the field.

With Brumbies No.10 Matt Toomua less restrained than in the opening two matches, McCabe received the type of fast front-foot ball that enabled him to hit the line at speed; he constantly make an impact. In contrast to his usual trait of trying to run through or over players, McCabe found or made the gap. And after such an accomplished effort, you can see why his teammates revealed that he was tagged the "Chuck Norris of the Brumbies".

McCabe's fearless exploits are legend, which is why he was among Robbie Deans' favourites when the New Zealander was in charge of the Wallabies. Deans was never renowned for effusive statements; bring up McCabe's name, however, and he would long and loudly eulogise the man.

After first playing a Test off the bench against Italy in Florence at the end of 2010, the centre's personable demeanour and strong communication skills convinced Deans within a year his that he was ready for higher duties.

Deans appointed McCabe to the Wallabies.leadership group, in which the player was involved with coaching and managerial staff in organising team strategy, planning and off-field logistics. According to those in the know, McCabe excelled in that environment.

McCabe won Deans over during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

After being used before the tournament as a battering ram at inside centre for several Tests, in which games he more often than not topped the tackle count, McCabe's World Cup appeared over early on when he damaged his shoulder. McCabe was in abject pain and could easily have been sent home, but he persevered, buoyed by the fact the Wallabies selectors were happy for him to stay in New Zealand due to the slight hope he would be available for the final stages of the tournament. He did come back and in the last weeks, as usual, put in. McCabe was without doubt Australia's most intrepid World Cup player.

It is now a bit harder for McCabe to make the Test team. There are more options at No.12. But the Wallabies know, like the Brumbies know, that he will be their most committed performer if selected. And the fans and audience should know that Pat McCabe is a special person, deserving of the highest praise.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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