‘GMac’ enjoyed memorable sporting success in Wales – but it could be the turn of ‘JMac’ when the 2020 Six Nations kicks off on Saturday.
Chants of ‘GMac, GMac’ rang around the Usk Valley in 2010 when golfer Graeme McDowell holed the winning putt at Celtic Manor to seal Ryder Cup success for Europe against the United States.
More than nine years on, JMac – Wales wing Johnny McNicholl’s nickname – takes centre stage by making his test debut against Principality Stadium opponents Italy.
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He has already sampled Cardiff’s big-match atmosphere, scoring a try when Wales beat the Barbarians 43-33 in a non-cap fixture two months ago.
But 29-year-old McNicholl, who qualifies for Wales on residency, now has a chance to impress in the Six Nations arena after only arriving from New Zealand in 2016 following a Super Rugby stint with the Canterbury-based Crusaders.
“I had the long-term goal when I came over here to play for Wales,” he said.
“I didn’t announce it publicly, I kept my goals to myself until the time came. But, yes, I’ve been thinking about this moment for a long time.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 31, 2020
McNicholl has been reunited in the Wales camp with new head coach Wayne Pivac, his former boss at the Scarlets, and a major career move from New Zealand’s South Island to West Wales has proved a dream switch.
“If you look at the Scarlets, when they put their first team out the quality from numbers one to 23 is class,” McNicholl added.
“So I knew I wasn’t taking a step down in rugby. It was international players all over the park, so we had that conversation and it was always a goal to qualify for Wales.
“Those boys are on the field for hours after training, working on the little things, so I did follow them in that respect.
“But I just focused on myself and growing as a player, and I had that goal, and every week I just wanted to make myself better. So when the time came to qualifying, I was ready to be here.
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Plenty of new faces in the Welsh team under Wayne Pivac as they face Italy this weekend… #GuinnessSixNations
“He (Pivac) has been in my corner for the last three years, and it was nice that he began coaching Wales just as I qualified because he knows what I can do and he knows what I’ve done for him in the past and he trusts me.
“I just like to have the ball in my hands. I like to offload, I like to step and create breaks for people, not only myself. Breaking tackles, making line breaks is what I hopefully will bring to this team.
“At the Scarlets, at home and now with Wales, we’ve all played a similar brand of rugby throughout my career. It hasn’t changed too much.
“All the teams I’ve played for play the try-scoring way. We don’t play for penalties, we play for tries to keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
“It was pretty dramatic,” he said. “It was a draw right up until that Sam Davies drop goal.
“I fell in love with the stadium at that moment. I was in the top of the stand, and I still had this beautiful view of what was going on down there.
“Seeing Sam knock over that drop goal to win the game was great, and after experiencing that as a fan, I can’t wait to get out there.”
– Press Association
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