WHEN I look back on my career, nothing gave me more satisfaction than making a good read at the breakdown and pulling off a jackal. Yes, I won the Premiership and played in some big Heineken Cup matches, but it was specific instances in games that really stand out. From an individual point of view, the adrenaline rush you got from stealing opposition ball was something else knowing at that moment you had affected a big moment for your team.
I’d competed to a fairly high standard in judo as a kid, so shifting my balance to absorb contact or using the opposition player’s body weight to my advantage came fairly naturally to me. I played to county level but eventually judo and everything else made way for rugby.
The Brumbies picked me up and, before long, I was representing my country overseas. It was incredible. Between 2004-06, I played in three Junior World Cups for Australia. Back then, they were split into U19s and U21s. I captained the U19s in South Africa, played in the U21s the year after in Argentina, where we won every game until narrowly losing to South Africa in the final, and then led the side in France the next year. Those tournaments were great for my development, mentally and physically. In Argentina, I remember there was a fence between the supporters and the pitch, just in case passions spilled over, and the pitch was surrounded by a moat so you had to come out from under the pitch to enter the field. It gave you a good idea of what pressure rugby was all about.
There was a lot of pride that came with pulling on the green and gold jersey, it was all I ever wanted to do, so pursuing the Italian route (I have an Italian passport) wasn’t an option I’d ever really considered. I got to play quite a few games for Australia A after that but, sadly, never the full Wallabies side. Having George Smith and Phil Waugh in front of me was bad timing, I guess. George was just one of those unbelievable players who never got injured and Phil was relatively the same, so I never got the opportunity. And once George retired, David Pocock came through.
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