Matt Giteau: Kid Dynamite all grown up

by staff

The first time Matt Giteau felt he belonged in a Test jersey came almost two years after his debut.

It wasn’t until two years later that Giteau felt he really belonged in an Australian jersey, at the same place where he debuted, kicking three penalties to help defeat England.

“The first game that I felt I played well and I felt like I showed some kind of dominance was in 2004 against England at Twickenham,” he said.

“We won and then from there I felt like I really belonged in the Test arena.”

After his first match, Giteau felt he’d be lucky to play another Test, finishing on the negative side of an Eddie Jones scoring system that added points for positive acts and took them away for errors.

Almost 10 years and 91 Tests after his debut, Giteau thought once again that his Test career was over, never thinking he would manage to add one, let alone, the eight Tests needed for him to reach 100.

So when the ARU eligibility rules changed this year, he returned to the Wallabies fold with a newfound appreciation for each minute played in the gold jersey.

“I think the privilege that I was given (in my early career), it wasn’t so much that I took it for granted, but I just think at the moment I really cherish it a lot more.

“Even the little things you cherish - the team photo before a Test match, the warm ups, singing the anthems together with your teammates.”

His three years in France, in which Giteau married wife Bianca and became a father to two boys, have put rugby in perspective for him.

“Initially when I was playing for Australia, I placed probably too much emphasis on it, too much importance on it,” he said.

“While it is important, it’s still only a game and it’s something you need to enjoy.

“At the back end of the first part of my career, I was probably missing that a little bit.

“I’ve grown up more as far as knowing rugby and its rightful place.

“I still cherish it, it’s still very special to me but it’s not the be all and end all.”

When you ask others what has changed about Giteau between the first and second installments in his Wallabies career, the answers are generally laced with admiration.

Wallabies vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper remembers the first time he met Giteau, when he was still “kid dynamite” with frosted tips and an obsession with rugby.

While he has mellowed in recent years, Ashley-Cooper says Giteau’s passion and dedication to training is still infectious.

“He’s one of the best I’ve played with - his character is really, really strong,” he said.

“He might have little legs and cute little calves but mentally he’s one of the strongest and toughest blokes I know.

“That’s the only way to really explain Gits, he’s just world class.

Matt Toomua also started his career with Giteau at the Brumbies and when the 33-year-old rejoined camp this year, Toomua was most surprised by how little change there was.

“I think he’s definitely improved,” he said

“He was obviously a great player...but he’s definitely refreshed.

“I thought being a bit older he might have to step back but he definitely isn’t.”

One of those who has seen and Giteau’s journey first hand since his last Wallabies stint is close friend and roommate on tour, Drew Mitchell.

MItchell in many ways has been a beneficiary of Giteau’s scintillating Toulon form that he says “forced the hand” to change eligibility rules that have also allowed a handful of other Wallabies to return to the squad.

“I just know there’ll be a huge amount of satisfaction within him because of the way he’s had to get here,” he said.

“I know his wife will be immensely proud, his parents Ron and Julie are over here and his family back home.

It’s family that has been his mainstay through his career and Giteau is quick to acknowledge them as his greatest stabiliser.

His father Ron, who captained the Canberra Raiders and played 226 first grade rugby league games, has been one of his greatest influences in football.

“(During the) ups and downs that you go through as a player and, certainly for me, the ins and outs of being an international footballer and then going away and playing club rugby , the people that stick by you during that time are obviously your close friends but more importantly your family,” he said.

Giteau says the perspective he has gained since 2011 is something that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has tried to instill in the entire squad.

“I think it’s just something that guys will learn,” he said.

“Hopefully they’ll cherish it.

“I think that’s an environment that Cheika’s trying to bring in.

“Your next game for the Wallabies or your last game for the Wallabies could be your last and (we need to) really understand the privilege that we’re given as players.”

Giteau might never have thought it would happen but he will become one of eight Wallabies centurions on Sunday and while his focus is on the team, there’s no doubt he will appreciate every moment.