Player Profile: Phil Mathers
Photo: SPA Images
After six years and over 100 first grade games, Eastern Suburbs’ lock/loose forward Phil Mathers decided the time was right for a different rugby experience last year and packed his bags for northern Italy. Eleven months living in the city of Padua and playing for Petrarca in Italy’s top-tier competition was exactly the challenge the 26-year-old was looking for.
“I loved it, it was a beautiful part of the world to live and play rugby in. I’d always wanted to be a part of a professional environment and training every day and working on different aspects of my game with more focus was great,” he said.
With Northern Hemisphere weather dictating a more attritional approach to the game, Mathers feels that his time with Petrarca has taken his set-piece work – particularly his scrummaging – to another level.
“It’s such a major part of the game over there,” he explained. “The scrum is not just used as a platform for attack, it’s also a way of gaining a mental edge over your opponent. I certainly came away with a different appreciation of the set-piece.”
Having undertaken his rugby graduation at King’s School, Mathers was playing Shute Shield rugby at the age of 19 for Eastwood before making the move to the Beasties back in 2010 and it was to Woollahra Oval that he returned from his European adventure to take up the challenge of restoring Easts to former glories.
Head coach Mark Bakewell is understandably pleased to have his 6ft 5in traveller back in the fold after his ‘Italian Job’, pointing to the game smarts and physicality that Mathers brings to the table.
“Phil adds a certain presence to the pack which adds pressure to the opposition, he is a very good lineout operator and destructive in close quarters,” said Bakewell. “He has a habit of being mentally one step ahead of his adversaries which is very much to Easts’ benefit.”
The Beasties go into the finals as a bit of a dark horse with inconsistency their Achilles heel in 2013. “We can beat the top teams and lose to those below us,” affirmed Mathers but he also believes they can beat anybody on their day. “I think we’re a genuine danger.”
Original version published in Rugby News Volume 27 Issue 19 on August 24th, 2013