The joke was on Pete Betham this week. Called into Wallabies training in Sydney, the 24-year-old NSW winger thought he might strike it lucky and be handed a spot on the bench for Saturday's third Bledisloe Test in Dunedin.

Brumbies flyer Joe Tomane had been ruled out with a hamstring niggle, meaning Chris Feauai-Sautia would graduate to the starting line up. Or so Betham presumed.

"I got the call to just come in and train, and I was telling 'Cheik' [Waratahs coach Michael Cheika] that I would be there for hills [training] the following day," he said.

"[At Wallabies training] they got me in the huddle, and I was wondering why everyone was giggling and had these funny faces. Then Ewen goes, 'Congrats to Pete, he's going to make a debut for the Wallabies,' and I thought that was all right. But then he gets close to me and shakes my hand and says, 'Mate, you're starting.' I literally lit up, I thought they'd all stitched me up."

Feauai-Sautia had succumbed to the same hamstring problem as Tomane, and so Betham became the 12th player to be handed his Test debut this season.

"I'm still in shock at actually being called up," he said. "I've tried to ground my feet all week, talk through a few of the plays and tried to establish myself for a good preparation."

It has been a long time coming for the Wellington-born, Sydney-raised winger.

An Australian Schoolboys representative in 2006, Betham struggled to make the transition to Super Rugby, languishing on the fringes at the Brumbies, Rebels and Waratahs before a last-ditch effort to jump-start his career led him to New Zealand's third-tier competition, the National Provincial Championship.

It was an inspired decision. Betham scored six tries on the wing for the Tasman Makos, and ended the season among the NPC's top finishers. His performances attracted the attention of Blues coach John Kirwan but Betham had already committed to staying in Sydney this year.

Brimming with confidence, Betham returned to the Waratahs and thrived under the new coaching regime of Cheika, Daryl Gibson and Alan Gaffney, scoring six tries from 11 starts in a back three boasting Israel Folau, Cam Crawford and Drew Mitchell.

He credited the Waratahs coach with giving him a fourth crack at making it in Super Rugby. "Cheik's been a massive influence in my rugby career and how I play," Betham said. "[He said], 'Don't get bogged down on the things that you can't do, work on them as well, but stick to what you're good at and do them really well.' "

Now back on the wing beside good mate Folau and deep into preparations for Saturday's Test, Betham is proof patience and good fortune can be a rugby player's best friends.

"There comes a bit of humility that you have to have in terms of your playing career, and a bit of patience," he said. "My early career with the Brumbies and the Rebels, I guess I wasn't a mature athlete and professional back then. I learnt the hard way pretty much."

The hard way will serve Betham well in Dunedin, although he seemed undaunted by the prospect of making his debut against the All Blacks. In many ways, considering his New Zealand connections, Saturday will close a neat circle in his career.

"You'd always want to play against the top team in the world and that's New Zealand," he said. "I'd had a stint playing in New Zealand before, I love the atmosphere and I love playing [there], so what better way to have my debut than play against them in Dunedin."