Eagles winger Inoke Burua busted his gut to bring down Saitama Wild Knights star Marika Koroibete but it proved to be all for nought.…
Soon after Eddie Jones came back onto the scene for his second stint as Wallabies coach, he echoed some wise words about selection and coaching from the great Bob Dwyer – “run straight and pick players that have qualities you can’t coach”.
It is that second point that rings out to me and that is the reason I believe selecting Tate McDermott as Wallabies captain is the right move.
I have been a fan of McDermott since he burst onto the Super Rugby scene in a Queensland Reds jersey, although I do have to say though I am also a fan of a few other young Australian halfback including Ryan Lonergan, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa and a ready-made captain himself Teddy Wilson.
All of these players have their own unique attributes, but right now McDermott has that un-coachable quality that sets him apart.
Un-coachable, for our purposes here, means natural qualities a player has and set them apart and cannot be coached into a player. Qualities like Michael Hooper’s work rate, Quade Cooper’s passing skills or John Eales’s stoic leadership.
The thing that sets McDermott apart is his speed and ability to engage defenders around the ruck. No other halfback in Australia has the ability to test ruck defense like him and then exploit it with blistering acceleration. He has an eye for slow forwards and consistently exploits them.
This is an area that the Wallabies have been woefully bad at in recent times. You have to earn the right to go wide and the only way to do that is make sure the defenders close to the ruck are engaged.
Secondly, he yaps. Now every halfback has the chat, but McDermott is excellent at barking orders, like a well-trained sheep dog, at forwards and backs alike. In particular it is the management of the forwards in rucks and mauls that are most critical for any halfback, it’s about squeezing that extra effort out the players in front of him. Giving an extra one percent has the potential to be the difference at test level.
In addition to my last point it is my strong opinion that the halfback position, in general, is the best for having an impact on decisions. The halfback is nearly always within an ear throw of the referee and as a captain can exploit this proximity in the most contested and inconsistently refereed part of the game, the ruck.
A good half back will consistently be yapping about opposition players laying all over the ball, not rolling away, hands in the ruck… I could go on, but as captain they are given even more free reign to plant the seed in the referees mind. The great George Gregan was an expert at this aspect and I wouldn’t be surprised if Eddie lines up a few meetings between the two to help pass on this undervalued skill.
Finally, as Eddie said at a recent press conference, McDermott is “a tough little bugger” with a “good head on him”. These are the exact qualities you need to be successful at test level, particularly at 82kgs. While not perfect in defence he is always ready and willing to chop big players or even go in for the try saving hold-up over the line.
It’s this ‘mongrel’ paired with his ability to read the game and see space which is so critical for Australian sides – we need a smart fighter and that’s what McDermott is.
While there is still a lot to work on in McDermott’s game, like his passing accuracy and length, box kicking and defence, these things are much more coachable to a player willing to learn than pace and cunning.
I believe that it is an astute move for Eddie to put his trust in the young man, even if circumstances forced his hand. Right now we all have to accept that we are not building for this World Cup, its 2027 that is the real prize for Australia.
A home World Cup, a chance at redemption. It is high time that our young talent were sent on their long journey to become test greats and McDermott, the “tough little bugger”, may just be the man to lead them.