Drew Mitchell reaping rewards of fiery baptism

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Drew Mitchell is finding himself feeling fresher as the minutes tick down in games and he has a baptism of fire to thank for it.

It wasn’t sudden but rather a gradual benefit of a brutal beginning to his reinstatement into Wallabies camp.

Mitchell was one singled out in Notre Dame because of his fitness, targeted to do extra training to make the standard.

He was “filthy” at the time though it was not an all too unfamiliar spot for him to be in.

Two and a half months later, having grasped an opportunity to replace Rob Horne against Wales, he is grateful for the development.

It was no more evident than in the 72nd minute against Argentina, when Mitchell beat seven Pumas defenders to set Adam Ashley-Cooper up for his third in a hat-trick of tries.

Mitchell could almost have gone himself but he opted to send a long ball out wide to his good mate, who finished perfectly.

The 31-year-old said none of that would have transpired had he not been separated out in the sweltering Chicago autumn.

“I’ve found myself in this club a couple of times in my career but you never probably realise the importance at the time when you’re put in it, you’re probably just a little bit more filthy when you’re in it,” he said.

“I think it’s probably more afterwards that you start seeing the benefit from it.

“(It’s) not so much seeing it but feeling it, later in the game being able to pop up on the inside of Bernard or someone and just be an option.”

Even if he doesn’t necessarily make that run or collect that pass every single time he plays, Mitchell said his added fitness provides a perceived threat.

“I may very (well) not be getting used in those situations but the opposition defensive line, if I catch their eyesight or they at least have to acknowledge the fact that I could be an option, it’s a good position to be in.

Cheika praised Mitchell’s improvement after the semi-final and foreshadowed further improvement in the Toulon winger.

“When he first came back and started training he really struggled with the intensity of training and the fitness level required,” he said.

“(He’s a) good footballer (and) with fitness he’s going to take his opportunities and I thought tonight he was excellent.

“He did a lot of work off the ball. We know he’s a good footballer, so the fitter he gets, the better he’ll be.”

Mitchell feels he’s improving the analytical part of his game as well, anticipating play at a level above that of even just a season ago.

“(As I’ve gotten older, I’m) able to read the game a little bit more, for me just compared to what I was able to maybe eight years ago or whatever,”: he said.

“I think it’s something you get progressively better at and I think (you get) more comfortable because of the amount of times you’ve found yourself in those situations.”

Australia’s day-by-day focus has been a well-publicised mentality but one that Cheika says is genuine, not focused on looking beyond improving at every opportunity.

Mitchell said Cheika’s coaching methods had given him a different perspective, packaging the importance of life in and out of football.

“It’s been different to a point because it’s not outcome driven, it’s not solely focused on the football,” he said.

“I think what Cheik does really well is he ties in the football stuff with stuff about how we want to live our lives, how we want to sort of hold ourselves in public situations and also the relationships we have with family friends and whatever.

“I think he’s really good at outlining the correlation it has and the benefits it has for both sides of football and life outside of football.”

Saturday marks another step in an unlikely journey for Mitchell and Toulon teammate Matt Giteau, and an opportunity that the Wallabies have not had in 12 years - to hold the Webb Ellis Cup.

Australia’s day-by-day focus has largely stopped them from fantasizing about the what ifs or the grandeur of the moment but Mitchell said he might stop to savour the moment.

“Maybe on the day off or something like that, I might take a minute to (think about it),” he said.

“It’s a pretty cool sort of position to be involved in but you’ve got to make sure you take the opportunity that’s in front (of you).”