Ready to shine: Pat McCutcheon on his Wallaby ambitions

So, if you’re a Wallaby fan, is your glass half-full or half-empty right now? Do you view the recent Autumn International tour as a failure or a success? Do you choose to fondly remember that stoic win against the All Blacks in Hong Kong, the hard fought victories over Wales and Italy, and the decimation of Grand Slam France in front of their loyal subjects in Paris? Or can your head not get past the scrum debacle in Cardiff, the touch-up at the hands of the old enemy at Twickenham, or the embarrassing defeat by Munster in the freezing rain of Limerick?

It really was a mixed bag to comprehend from Australia across the four weeks, with more highs and lows than a weather chart. But the fact that it ended with that record win over Les Bleus has led to a mood of cautious optimism looking ahead. Had the Wallabies lost that match, the feeling amongst the watching faithful – and more pertinently – the Australian media, would have been considerably darker in tone.

One man who had a ringside seat for every show was NSW Waratah and now Wallaby flanker, Pat McCutcheon. In what has been a breakthrough year for the 23-year-old, his inclusion in the touring squad led to a 15 minute debut from the bench against Leicester and 40 minutes against Munster, but that highly sought after 1st test cap still eludes him. McCutcheon is old school. Tough but fair and doesn’t pull any punches. Ask him whether four wins from five test matches on the tour was a good return and you’ll get the answer of a born winner:

“You can never be satisfied with a loss. It’s never in the objectives to lose a game.”

Try him again on the perceived weaknesses in the Australian scrum that were exposed by the Welsh and the French – in particular the lack of binding and the early head lifting from the second and backrow in Cardiff, and you’ll get another no-nonsense response:

“As a backrower, all I can do to help the frontrow is to push hard. I leave the rest up to them.”

Dig a little deeper however, and you will garner a positive reflection on the tour as a whole. For McCutcheon, it’s all about the squad taking those necessary steps towards that World Cup trophy next September in New Zealand:

“By winning games you are creating a positive environment, strength and depth is built within the squad, and it gives you the flexibility to try new combinations and bleed players in. In every game there are going to be mistakes, so we are continually learning as a team. There is a lot of rugby to be played before the World Cup, so having the flexibility to have multiple players for each position can only strengthen the squad in a competitive way.”

2010 saw McCutcheon truly arrive on both the national and international rugby scenes. He gained his first state caps for NSW Waratahs in the Super 14, helped his club side Sydney University to lift their sixth straight Shute Shield title, played a pivotal captaincy role in Australia’s vastly improved performance in the IRB World Sevens Series (they finished 3rd, their highest position since 2001), and then captained that side to a Silver Medal in October’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Despite all that, you get the feeling that the chance to become a permanent wearer of the green and gold for the Wallabies is what truly drives him. He’s keen to get in on the act but is also refreshingly realistic about the obstacles in his path:

“Every player would want more time and I’m exactly the same, but the backrow is a highly contested position [in Australia] and all the players in the group are quality. I’m thrilled and excited to have been a part of the tour and happy to help out the team in anyway I can. It’s a massive learning curve in relation to game plans, game styles, the way the boys prepare, the training and the intensity.”

It must be exciting, daunting and frustrating in equal measures to be a part of a Wallaby tour that pits you against your trans-Tasman rivals and the cream of the Northern Hemisphere, yet only in the role of observer. But McCutcheon paints a positive picture in terms of the level of involvement the non-playing members of the squad have around each test.

“As an observer, you feel like you’re a part of the team. You do all the training and preparation work, travel to the game on the team bus, walk out on the field before the game and finally finish up in the change rooms after. The only difference is you don’t get the opportunity to play 80 minutes of rugby.”

As you would expect, this close proximity to the action, the emotion and the brutality of top line test rugby has whetted his appetite for more.

“It definitely reinforces the desire to become a Wallaby. After a test, I’m normally pretty pumped up and feel like I could go to the gym!”

One thing’s for sure, with a new and expanded Super Rugby tournament just around the corner and the World Cup only nine months away, McCutcheon will get plenty of opportunities to burn his energy off on the playing field, should he maintain his current rate of progress.

First published by Ruggamatrix on January 6th, 2011

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