A tribute to Drew Mitchell

Fionn Roar Guru

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    Australia’s 2015 world cup semifinal against Argentina started well for the men in gold – Rob Simmons scored the first try one minute in, and Australia went into the break ten points up.

    As unfortunately happens so often to Australia, our discipline started letting us down, and soon Argentina had kicked their way back into the game. For the first 30 minutes of the second half Argentina had all the possession, all the momentum, and it felt like only a matter of time before they got ahead.

    However, as also so often happens to Australia, when the chips are down a moment of pure brilliance from a single player – rather than a great ensemble play from the team – got us out of jail.

    The man in question was Drew Mitchell. Receiving the ball on halfway, Mitchell ran through five defenders – or was it six, or even seven? – and about 50 metres to set up Adam Ashley-Cooper’s winning try.

    I don’t care what anyone might say about the Wallabies already leading at that point or about the likelihood of us winning anyway, because to me it felt at the time that we were about to lose – and it felt that Drew Mitchell got us into a world cup final.

    It was one of the great Wallaby moments in recent years.

    The last ten years have been a hard time to be an Australian rugby fan. In a period of inconsistent form Drew Mitchell has been one of the few consistent positives, both on and off the field.

    He was never the best player in Wallaby gold but, then again, Mitchell was probably never appreciated as much as he deserved.

    Drew Mitchell loves life. He’s never taken it too seriously. Despite the average results in Australian rugby, much like Nick Cummins, he was never seen without a smile on his face. His interviews were always the funniest, and he always seemed to treasure the opportunities he had in Wallaby gold.

    In his acceptance speech for the Wallabies try of the year in 2015 was predictably humble.

    “I’d like to say thank you to the forwards who managed to move that driving maul maybe three metres forward, which meant I only had about 60 metres to run,” he said.

    “I’d like to say thank you to Nick Phipps for that gem of a ball he threw.

    “And, lastly, to Adam Ashley-Cooper: thank you, mate, for picking up the ball off your toes, even thought you didn’t communicate to me – and that’s probably because you were out of position. I just need you a little bit tighter there, Swoop.”

    The speech didn’t stop there.

    “On a side note, I believe Nick Phipps is actually accepting this award on my behalf. To the presenter, I would just like to say, please be careful – Nick has a track record of pushing people over who have things that he wants.

    “And also to the people down there in the front row, also be careful, because Nick has a track record of throwing things into the front row of crowds.”

    This should bring a smile to the face of anyone who has followed Phipps’ on and off-field exploits in recent years.

    I still remember the first time I saw Mitchell play for the Wallabies: I was a young lad sitting in front of a fire watching the Wallabies get annihilated by the Springboks in Johannesburg. In a hard game to watch as an Australian, his try was the one positive moment.

    Drew possessed good speed and a fantastic step as well as a penchant for the occasional brain explosion. This combination of X-factor and inconsistency made him a joy to watch.

    They were all on display in the Wallabies’ hugely entertaining matches in South Africa that year – I recommend finding and rewatching those tests.

    As much as I had hoped that Drew would come to the Brumbies after I heard he was leaving France, I respect his decision to end his career.

    Drew, thank you for all the smiles, thank you for all the laughs, thank you for the years you spent representing Australia and thank you for that world cup final.