ACT Brumbies Season Review 2011 – Part III
By Paul Cook with Pat McCabe
The final part of our ACT Brumbies 2011 season review is with utility back and Wallaby hero Pat McCabe. The 23yr old backed up his stellar first season in Super Rugby with a year of consistently high performances which saw him move from full-back to inside centre and earn a World Cup spot in the process. Playing with a severely damaged shoulder, he earned the admiration of many for his courageous display against South Africa in the Quarter-Final, fighting through considerable pain to help the Wallabies into the last four. His bravery came at a cost however, as reconstructive surgery will see him miss the first few rounds of the new competition. He takes us through weeks thirteen to the end of the season…
Week 13 – Brumbies 20 Lions 29
RuggaMatrix: This was Matt Giteau’s 100th game for the Brumbies but not the way the team would have wanted to celebrate it?
Pat McCabe: “Not at all and I think, looking back, that was probably one of the most disappointing losses of the year. Somebody like ‘Gits’ had so much respect within the team and we all spoke about playing well for him and dedicating the win to him so, to let it slip was incredibly disappointing. After the game was when Tony Rea gave everyone a pretty stern spray and I think we all knew that we deserved it because it was a pretty ordinary performance.”
RM: You were 10-0 up and then the Lions lost a man to the sin bin but instead of taking advantage, you actually dropped off and let them back in. Was there a bit of complacency there?
PM: “I don’t think so, when we’d lost as many games as we had up to that point, I don’t think anyone was thinking ‘We’ve got this one, let’s relax a bit’. I think we just switched off a bit mentally and when you drop even one or two percent against a team like the Lions – who had pushed a lot of teams close during the year – it gives them a chance and they took it and they were too strong.”
RM: The team had just returned from South Africa, a trip deemed to be one of the hardest on the body – was that a factor in the loss?
PM: “It’s hard to say, it probably was to an extent but at the same time, everyone has those games during the year and most teams perform pretty well. Having had such a good start, I don’t think we can use that as an excuse at all.”
RM: Given the paucity of wins across the season, did it make this loss harder to swallow, given the opposition and their lowly ladder placing?
PM: “Absolutely, anytime you lose games that you probably should win, it hurts even more – especially when you haven’t been playing well up until that point and the team desperately needed to win. Yeah, that one definitely hurt a lot.”
RM: You mentioned Tony Rea’s infamous post-match spray, how did that go down in the dressing room at the time and how do you look at it now?
PM: “Initially, maybe I thought it was a little bit strong. I agreed wholeheartedly with the fact that we hadn’t been playing tough enough and that we’d let each other down in that sense but I remember at the time not agreeing that we wouldn’t win another game for the rest of the year and we went on to prove that right, but I think that most of the guys probably knew that what he was saying was true.
“It was a little bit hard to swallow initially but when you know it’s true, it’s very hard to be too pissed off in any way. I think we all knew that he was coming from the right place, he didn’t say it to embarrass anyone, I think he just wanted to put out there how he felt.”
RM: Despite not pulling off the win, this was a great defensive display and a marked improvement on the previous weeks wasn’t it?
PM: “Definitely, our attack still wasn’t clicking well by any means but defensively, to hold out the Force – who are a good attacking side – I think we definitely took a step in the right direction. Having let a lot of people down – including each other – the week before, it meant a lot to put in a good defensive performance. It wasn’t a win but it was definitely a step in the right direction.”
RM: Considering the media attention regarding the post-match spray the week before, were you still happy to only get a draw – you would have taken any signs of improvement at that stage wouldn’t you?
PM: “Yeah, it didn’t have that feeling of a win, we weren’t cheering or yahooing in the sheds afterwards, but I think we knew that the Force had had so much possession, that we’d done well to keep it to a draw. It wasn’t a win but it was pretty close.”
RM: One player that seemed to come through the season relatively unscathed in terms of criticism – certainly in Tony Rea’s eyes at least – was Matt Giteau. It was his kick that earned the draw and gave another example of how big a loss he’ll be in 2012 won’t he?
PM: “Massively. A lot of the time when the team wasn’t playing well, a lot of the good players were hanging off of him and I thought he had a great year. He played well pretty much every week and the fact that he dominated our ‘Best and Fairest’ award by so much was a testament to that.”
Week 15 – Brumbies 3 Stormers 16
RM: You only had a Christian Lealiifano penalty to show for your efforts in this one and despite getting through 32 phases inside the Stormers twenty-two in the closing minutes, you still couldn’t break through. Was this the best defence you faced all year?
PM: “Yeah, I think it probably would be, looking back. They’re just so effective at what they do at the breakdown, they continually present a solid line and they’re very tough to break down and even when they do present opportunities, they scramble so well that it’s very hard to score.
“I think we had a couple of chances in that game where we really did need to take them and the fact that we didn’t, hurt us pretty badly. We dropped one almost over the line in the corner in the first half and because they’ve got such a good defence, you can’t really afford to not take those chances.”
RM: Considering you stopped the rot a little bit the week before and got the draw, it must have been a disappointment not to back that up with another good result?
PM: “A little bit, but while we didn’t get the result, I think it was a much better performance than the one against the Lions for example and some of the poorer ones that we’d put out there – especially considering we were without ‘Gits’. Obviously, we didn’t win but I thought we competed well against one of the best sides in the comp.”
RM: Unfortunately, it was another home loss, which is tough to take for the fans in particular?
PM: “I think we broke a few records last year for the number of home losses that the Brumbies have had and it’s always a terrible feeling. It definitely hurts more losing at home and to know that people have come out in what is – more often than not – pretty average weather in Canberra and then you’ve let them down, is not a good feeling.”
Week 16 – Reds 14 Brumbies 22
RM: It’s probably a no brainer but was this the best win of the year?
PM: “Absolutely. That was one that I think we circled about three weeks out as being an incredibly important game for us to show what we could do as a group and how we wanted to be remembered as a group. We’d had a rotten season up to that point and we wanted to remember it for positive reasons and I think we were the most physical we’d been all year and attacked the Reds and they weren’t one hundred percent on their game. We just bashed them for the majority of the eighty minutes.”
RM: Do you think the performance and the result was a little glimpse of what might have been for your season?
PM: “Yeah, I guess it’s both a positive and a disappointment to look back and say ‘we beat the top team, look at what we could have done’ but at the same time, I think we were just happy to put out a performance we could be proud of, something we didn’t do too many times throughout the year.”
RM: Do you think the relative ladder positions of both sides actually worked in your favour for this one because you went in as underdogs and seemed to play with less pressure and more purpose as a result?
PM: “I think so. We struggled a lot this year against teams that we should have beaten or that we fancied our chances against, we didn’t play nearly as well. Against the Reds, there was no pressure on us and we could just go out there and enjoy it and that’s what we did it and it was by far our best win of the year.”
RM: One of the talking points after the game was Matt Giteau’s penalty after the siren which denied the Reds a losing bonus point. It was reported that team mates ‘pleaded with him to kick it out’. Is that true and if so, were you one of them?!?
PM: “I think I might have been – I don’t know! It was widely reported that Stephen Moore disagreed with it but it was just one of those things where a lot of us wanted the game to be over. We were pretty happy with the result at the end and supported Gits’ decision one hundred percent.”
RM: A nice way to send Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Pat Phibbs out in their final home match and some payback for the Round Two loss to the Rebels which kick-started the downward spiral of the season?
PM: “It was and it was one that we knew we should probably win if we played well but I think we only played well up to about the sixty minute mark and then relaxed which is something we did throughout the year. We ended up getting away with the win but we still didn’t really hit our straps for any consistent period of time.”
RM: The win gave you your first back-to-back victories for the season and it was also important to get a win in front of your own fans and give them something to smile about and offer some renewed hope to take into this year?
PM: “Definitely. They’ve been great fans down in Canberra and they’ve been very supportive. Obviously, it was a pretty tough year last year so to send them out on a winning note was a nice feeling and for the boys playing their last game in Canberra for the Brumbies, it was nice to send them off with a win. Hopefully, we can put it down to just one of those years where we didn’t play anywhere near our potential and it won’t happen again.”
RM: This game also saw you playing at inside centre – your second game at 12 since making a positional change the week before against the Reds. Given that you’d played full-back for most of the year and on the wing throughout 2010 – how did the switch come about?
PM: “I spoke to Steve Larkham in the week leading up to the Reds game and he said that I might be playing inside centre and I remember not being sure if he was serious or not as I’d never played there before, but I ended up moving there and really enjoying it. It’s just the fact that you’re in the game a bit more, make a few more tackles and you’re a bit closer to the ball. I enjoy it and it has obviously paid dividends since then.”
RM: Given that you’d never played there – not even as a junior – were you pleased with how you went, because Robbie Deans clearly was?
PM: “I think defensively I was pretty strong but attacking wise I still wasn’t used to thinking about when and where to be but each week from then, I’ve improved a little bit and I’m starting to feel reasonably comfortable there. I think from each game I’ve learned a bit more and hopefully, I can keep doing that in the future if I continue to play there.”
Week 18 – Waratahs 41 Brumbies 7
RM: I think it goes without saying but after two wins on the trot, this was a very disappointing way to finish the season?
PM: “Absolutely, it was a game I think that we thought we were up for and it’s pretty hard to pinpoint exactly what happened but it just felt like we were pretty low out there. Obviously, they were really up for it as they were hoping to get into the finals and they were by far the better team.”
RM: They certainly appeared to have the greater desire on the night and they really smashed you at the breakdown didn’t they?
PM: “Yeah, in the physical confrontations, they were really dominant and pressured us for the whole game and they ended up putting on some good tries. At the end of the day, we just weren’t good enough.”
RM: Obviously, you wanted the win for a positive end to the season but was there any added incentive because you had the chance to knock your local rivals out of finals contention in the process or did that not figure?
PM: “One hundred percent it figured! We’d spoken about putting in a good performance and anytime you come up against the Waratahs, you want to win and you want to win well. Going into the game, it felt like we would do that but I’m not sure what happened, we just didn’t perform well.”
RM: After the game, coach Tony Rea said that it was the same sort of errors and mistakes that had plagued you all year – your whole season’s problems encapsulated in one eighty minute performance – fair comment?
PM: “Yeah, that probably sums it up pretty well. Going into the game, we had all the plans, we knew what we had to do, we just didn’t execute it and it was just little lapses of concentration where we let each other down.”
RM: Have the last two seasons of underachievement for the Brumbies been exacerbated by the ‘Real Madrid of rugby’ tag that was placed upon the squad in both pre-seasons – was there too much pressure?
PM: “I don’t think so. I guess when you’re in there, it’s hard to gauge whether there’s pressure or not on the whole team but I never really felt like we were favourites. I never thought that had affected our preparations or the things that we did but I think that in a sense it hurts more when you don’t meet those expectations, whether they’re realistic or not. If you put in a poor performance and everyone expects you to win it, it hurts the team and obviously the fans a lot more.”
RM: Across the season, you had one game from Rocky Elsom, Stephen Hoiles missed the whole year and Stephen Moore missed a few games. Is it fair to say that a lack of leadership across the park cost you during the year?
PM: “I think so. Losing ‘Hoilesy’ and Rocky for essentially the whole year hurt us a lot. Those two guys provide a lot of leadership and a really good link between the forwards and the backs as well which is an area where we didn’t gel too well so those guys were a massive loss.”
RM: It was another successful season for yourself following on from your Rookie of the Year performance in 2010. You consolidated your Brumbies spot, broke into the Wallaby side and went to the World Cup. So, definitely no hint of second season syndrome, can you have asked for much more?
PM: “Not at all, it’s been a pretty amazing couple of years. I think regarding second season syndrome, while I was lucky enough to win a couple of awards in 2010, I wasn’t overly happy with how I played in a lot of those games and I wasn’t by any means satisfied with what I’d done for the Brumbies the year before so I don’t think there was any complacency going into last season and that helped me have – not a great year – but an ok year for the Brumbies and to break into the test arena has been pretty surreal.”
RM: That desire to constantly improve is a great quality, is it something you’ve always had?
PM: “A little bit. I think that’s what’s driven me since I started wanting to take rugby seriously and – I don’t think I ever pictured myself being with the Wallabies – but I just knew that I wanted to keep improving and keep trying to be the best that I could possibly be. That’s taken me into the Wallabies so far but I’m still not one hundred percent happy with the player I am and I still have a lot of improvements to make.”
RM: Did you set yourself goals at the start of the year and did you match them?
PM: “I didn’t really, I’m not a huge goal setter in terms of achievements but I set some small goals in my mind about what sort of skills I’d like to develop and what attributes I’d like to develop over the year and some of those I think I’ve started to improve on but in terms of progressing to play for different teams, I don’t do a whole lot of that.”
RM: You played a lot at full-back for your club side Warringah, won Rookie of the Year with the Brumbies from the wing in 2010 and were the starting inside centre at the World Cup for Australia. Do you have a preference?
PM: “I don’t really, I think the one that you’re playing at the time – if you’re playing ok – then you feel like that’s your position but at the moment I feel like twelve suits me pretty well. I like to carry the ball into contact and I like to make tackles so I think in the long term, it suits the things I like doing so I think the centres will be, hopefully, where I stay for a while.”
RM: Are you happy to be known as versatile or would you like to nail down one position and master it?
PM: “Yeah, it’s a good and bad thing, I’d like to specialise in one position and really work on the skills you need for that particular position but at the same time, I’m pretty happy at the moment floating around. With the Brumbies this year, there’s going to be a really good ten and twelve with Matt To’omua and Christian Lealiifano so I could very easily find myself somewhere else. That’s fine and I think all you can do is try and play your best in whatever position you get put in.”
RM: The team has lost a lot of Brumby stalwarts in the off season – Matt Giteau, Mark Chisholm, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Patrick Phibbs, Josh Valentine etc – but is it a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new era?
PM: “I think we definitely needed some change and to lose that much experience obviously hurts, they’re really quality players that we’ll miss but the future’s exciting as well. It’s a young group with a new coaching staff and a different feeling around the place and hopefully that translates into better results on the field.”