ROB McCUSKER has admitted that his selection in Wales’ 35-man squad for the autumn series came as a total surprise.
The Wrexham-born forward received a text message shortly before caretaker coach Rob Howley announced his party for matches against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, which start next month.
McCusker’s last international cap came over two years ago and that had left him feeling like the forgotten man.
He said: “I didn’t hold much hope of being included. I thought I had been forgotten after not being involved in a while. It would be great to pull on the jersey again.”
Having been selected McCusker will now aim to impress Howley and his fellow coaches ahead of the opening Test against Argentina.
McCusker, a former Mold player, has been unable to add to his four international caps since appearing against France in the 2010 Six Nations - although there have been mitigating circumstances.
“I had a phone call from Robin McBryde the night before this year’s Six Nations squad was to be announced, but I had to tell him that I had been told I needed surgery on my shoulder,” said McCusker.
Wales went on to win the Grand Slam without McCusker, but he has few regrets about missing out.
“I don’t like to dwell on what might have been,” he responded when asked whether he rues missing the chance to be part of something special earlier this year.
“I don’t know whether I would have been in the squads for the matches and it may have been more disappointing to be involved and not play.
“I do know that I want to get involved in this series.”
McCusker was handed the Scarlets’ captaincy prior to the start of the Celtic League campaign, which has seen the Welsh region pick up four wins from six matches.
Despite playing in the unfamiliar number eight shirt McCusker has led by example for his club and his early season form has helped him catch the selectors eyes.
Not one to get carried away, McCusker played down suggestions that his performances made him a certainty for selection.
“I don’t know whether I am ever happy with my performances,” he said. “I mustn’t be doing too much wrong to be picked, but I always want to improve and see things that I am not doing as well as I can be.”
Has the captaincy helped McCusker? The 26-year-old is not sure whether it has had too much of an impact on his playing career.
“It is an honour,” he continued. “I have a few more grey hairs than before this season, but it is great when you are winning. It is just when things aren’t going so well that people look to you for guidance.
“There is a bit of added pressure but nothing much has changed because there is a group of experienced senior players and we have 11 of them in the Wales squad.”
After yesterday’s text McCusker has plenty of things to sort out before he meets up with the rest of the Wales squad on Saturday evening.
Sunday sees Wales travel to a training camp in Spala, Poland, with the week’s work set to include plenty of visits to the dreaded cyrotheraphy chamber.
The minus 120 degrees chamber is dreaded by many players, but not McCusker.
His last contact with the ‘ice prison’ came prior to the 2011 World Cup and McCusker shrugged off suggestions that the task struck fear into the players.
“I am quite familiar with it and it is not as bad as everyone makes out,” he confirmed.
“It is a dry cold rather than a wet one and is just a bit of novelty.”
One man who won’t be so familiar with the temparature is Ospreys’ prop Aaron Jarvis, who is the only uncapped player named in the squad.
Howley, in charge while Warren Gatland prepares to head up the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia, has named six players who were not involved in the summer tour Down Under, including fit-again Jamie Roberts, Tavis Knoyle and Dan Biggar.
As expected, there is no recall for London Welsh fly-half Gavin Henson, while three players – Newport Gwent Dragons flanker Dan Lydiate (ankle), Exeter prop Craig Mitchell (biceps) and Scarlets prop Rhodri Jones (shoulder) – were not considered because of injury.