Australia, facing a star player exodus post-World Cup, have signed two-year contract extensions with 20-year-old back-row forward Sean McMahon and winger Rob Horne, who had been linked with a big money move to Europe.
Both men will now remain in Australian rugby for the next three seasons, Australian Rugby Union (ARU) said in a statement Thursday.
McMahon, who made his Wallabies debut in 2014, stays at the Melbourne Rebels and Horne at the Waratahs, who kick off the defence of their Super Rugby title on February 13.
Rebels coach Tony McGahan praised McMahon — Australian Super Rugby rookie of the year — noting, “Sean has made a wonderful impact at the Rebels, despite still being just 20.”
Horne, aged 25 and with 25 caps, featured in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions series in 2013.
“Robâ€™s been an invaluable asset to the Waratahs over the last two years since Iâ€™ve had the pleasure of coaching him,â€ Wallabies and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said.
â€œThe next two years of his career here will see him become a real leader within our squad.”
Horne and McMahon are expected to feature in the Wallabies squad for the World Cup in September and October.
The ARU announcement came after Cheika backed mid-contract sabbaticals for Australia’s elite.
Stars such as Adam Ashley-Cooper, former skipper James Horwill, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu are due to leave Australia after the World Cup. Many more have been made tempting offers.
“We have to be more creative around our contracting,” Cheika said Wednesday and suggested progress had been made on the issue in recent meetings.
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver however repeated his backing for contract rules that prevent overseas-based stars from playing for the Wallabies.
“I still retain the view that if you open that up, you risk having a Super Rugby competition with no profile players and not a lot to offer fans,” he said at the official season launch on Wednesday.
“We’ll look at all the options, we’ll try to be as creative as we can but with the basic position that we want to protect the quality of player we have for Australian rugby fans.”