"What am I doing here?": Retired Mitchell suffers for Wallabies cause

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

WHEN Drew Mitchell got a phone call from Michael Cheika asking him to help out at a Wallabies camp, the pitch was simple.

Come and help fill out the numbers, and mentor some of the new young kids as well.

Fitness sessions? There’ll be a few, but just have a go. No pressure.

“It sounds good in theory but when you actually start doing it, you start to question it,” Mitchell said. 

“It’s been good to be around, but it’s also been really hard. 

“What I am doing here? I am not sure.”

Mitchell, who played 71 Tests but has been well and truly enjoying retirement for 15 months, has been well and truly questioning his decision to pull the boots back on this week and re-join Wallabies camp.

Drew Mitchell cracks a smile after re-joining the Wallabies squad for a pre-Rugby Championship camp. Photo: RUGBY.com.auOr at least he was on Tuesday afternoon after completing a gruelling double-session of conditioning with the Wallabies squad, who gathered in Sydney to begin their Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship campaign.

With the Waratahs still going in Super Rugby, Cheika rang Mitchell, his starting winger in the 2015 World Cup, “with a bit of an idea”.

“There are some young guys here, but if I was capable to run around with the boys, maybe just to chime in and fill the numbers but also to maybe pass on a bit to the younger guys,” Mitchell said.

“(Fitness-wise) he said I could pick and choose when I could do it. On Monday I did the first set of fitness and tactically pulled myself out of the second. But today we had to partner up, so if I pulled out of the second set it would have meant my partner was working the whole time.

“I thought that wasn’t fair on him so I tried to keep going and I was sick. I saw my lunch again.”

Mitchell is in decent shape - he’s training for a marathon - but with sessions designed to break full-time footy players already in good nick, the 34-year-old was a picture of suffering.

Particularly when the players were doing lung-busting crawling drills with harnesses, and under instructions from Cheika, Adam Coleman drove his partner Mitchell to breaking point.

It was all done with Mitchell mic'ed up and with a film crew from FoxSports trained on his every move, as part of a feature for the Kick and Chase show.

“It was good,” Mitchell said. 

“Cheik is big on when things get tough to not go all isolated and go within, and I was really impressed when things were hard, how much the boys rallied around each other, including myself.

“Because for those guys who are struggling, it’s a lot easier to get through it when you guys rallying around you. I was impressed by that.

“It’s been 15 months since I finished footy and about a year or so before that when I was last with this group, so it was nice. It’s good to be around the squad. 

“It’s always a privilege and honour in whatever capacity to be around this group. But it also reinforces that I made the right decision. 

Drew Mitchell on the attack in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final. Photo: Getty Images“Sure, it’d be nice to wear the jersey again but you have to be a bit realistic about these things. To put yourself through that day in, day out, and week in, week out, you have kind of got to be at a certain level of mentality, discipline and sacrifice and things like that.

"I have clocked out of that.

“There is definitely no chance of a comeback.”

Field and skill sessions have also given Mitchell the chance to run his eye over young back-three talent like 18-year-old Jordan Petaia, Jack Maddocks and Tom Banks, and halves Hamish Stewart and Mack Mason.

“All those guys, they are certainly showing what they’re capable of. At like anyone who comes in at that age into these environments, sometimes you can come in and a bit quiet and feel your way through,” Mitchell said.

“But some of those guys have come in and been really confident in their role. 

“All of those guys have shown ability but when you go to the next level, you have to iron out all those turnovers and mistakes and here is the place to make them. So when you get the chance to make them, you’re more assured in what you’re doing.”

Jordan Petaia in Wallabies colours. Photo: Rugby AUMitchell said Petaia, who was only 17 at the start of the year, should ignore the talk about his age and back himself.

“He’s young but age is but a number,” he said.

“Regardless of what date of birth he fills out on forms, he is in this environment because he has earned the right. There are a lot of people who mention his age but when you get to the environment, age is irrelevant.”