Centre discovery Pat McCabe believes he now belongs in the Wallaby midfield and looks forward to working off playmaker Quade Cooper as he faces his big World Cup moment of truth in Albany this weekend.
McCabe's fearless direct running style emboldened coach Robbie Deans to prefer him at inside centre ahead of discarded Matt Giteau in his reshaped Wallaby team in the months prior to the New Zealand World Cup.
The Brumbies' midfielder, 23, justified his coach's faith and in his five starting internationals has nailed down the No.12 jersey as Australia vanquished the All Blacks to win their first Tri-Nations in a decade.
McCabe, who was the Australian Rugby Players Association's Rookie of the Year last year, now feels comfortable in his new rarefied surroundings with the second-ranked Wallabies ahead of Sunday's opener with Italy at the North Harbour Stadium.
"I guess the more time you spend with a group the more comfortable and confident you feel with them," McCabe said at Thursday's team media briefing.
"So I think I've played enough with Quade [Cooper] and Ant [Fainga'a] that I'm starting to understand the things they do and the way they like to play.
"Having played five Tests this year I'm starting to feel like I belong a lot more and I'm looking forward to playing with them."
McCabe measured up well against the most experienced All Black midfield in history - Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith - and topped the tackle count when the Wallabies lost to the All Blacks in Auckland in the Tri-Nations.
A week later, McCabe scored his maiden Test try, and the only try of the game, as Australia won in South Africa for the third time in four years.
"I was very hopeful that I'd get to start against Italy and I'm very thankful that Robbie has kept a bit of faith in me and kept me at inside centre," he said.
While there has been much pre-match focus on the battle in the forwards, McCabe has been analysing his likely opponents in the Azzurri midfield.
"I think [Alberto] Sgarbi's probably going to be their inside centre and with all their centres they're big, physical hard-running guys so I'll definitely have my hands full there," he said.
"Their forward pack is obviously a huge strength and playing a very European style, they kick a lot and they kick very well so we'll have to be smart in the territory that we play.
"We have to keep them out of our half where if we give them chances they tend to kick a lot of penalty goals and keep the scoreboard ticking over like that."
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