For 17 years Tate McDermott watched with frustration as a procession of All Blacks captains lifted the Bledisloe Cup, but it wasn’t until he experienced the “smile” of Sam Cane first-hand that it truly “lit a fire” within.
You could hardly blame McDermott for being unable to turn the tide in Bledisloe III, after all, the blonde-kid from the Sunshine Coast didn’t make his first entrance to Test rugby until the result was all but lost midway through the second half at ANZ Stadium.
One by one Reuben Thorne, Tana Umaga, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and, now, Cane have lifted the Cup since 2003 and there’s not been an Australian man, or New Zealand coach for that matter, that has been able to do anything about it.
On Saturday night, former Wallabies captain Phil Kearns said that the next generation of players wearing the gold jersey - four of whom made their debuts during the heavy defeat - would use the disappointment of losing the Cup as motivation to drive them forward.
“It’s a real learning time,” Kearns told Fox Sports.
“They’ve got a couple of years until the next world cup, which we’ve known about.
“They’ll see New Zealand lift this Bledisloe Cup and, again, for a lot of these players who haven’t been in this side before, this’ll be the first time that guys like Harry Wilson and Noah Lolesio and Irae Simone and Jordan Petaia and Filipo Daugunu that they’ll see New Zealand raise it against then and they’ll use that down the track.”
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That’s exactly how McDermott – the livewire Queensland halfback - felt when Cane raised the Cup.
“The past 17 years, 17 of those years for us have been as a fan, so witnessing it, it definitely lit a fire for me,” McDermott told reporters on Monday.
“It’s upsetting, it’s disappointing, but at least we know what to expect now so next year we don’t make the same mistake twice.
“It’s actually hard to watch, particularly when you see the smiles on their faces, the disappointment in the crowd, just little stuff that really eats away at you. Not ideal to make your debut and watch Sam Cane smile lift that trophy, but, for me, it lit the fire and now we know exactly what we’re working towards.”
In the fallout of the loss, some have questioned the benefit of throwing the next generation to the wolves in the fear that it will dent their confidence for years to come.
But McDermott, who has been a significant part of the Reds’ rebuild under Brad Thorn, believes youth is no excuse and played down the potential of long-term scarring.
“I honestly think it’s based on the individual,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s too many people here that would have their confidence shattered. In saying that, we’re hurting, all of us are hurting, we let so many people down. These are the building blocks, we’re not going to make that excuse that we’re a young side and all of that rubbish. That’s the start and we can only go up. We’ve got a lot to work on and each of us are doing that, we’re trying to get better, this is our first time here, without trying to make that an excuse, we know we’ve got a long way to go.”
McDermott’s Reds teammate, Fraser McReight, who captained the Junior Wallabies to the under-20s World Cup final last year, agreed.
“The big thing as well is players can react to games individually and how they like to do it, but we’ve got a great group of leaders in the team and a great coaching set-up that actually instill confidence in us,” McReight said.
“As a team moving forward, you don’t look at the big picture, you don’t look at the scoreboard, you look at the tiny little processes that probably didn’t work for us and we can fix, and as a young player you, you look at that, you focus on that week preparing and that can get your confidence going as well.
“Everyone’s going to be feeling hurt and gutted, but everyone’s not going to be lacking confidence.”
The Wallabies only need to turn their history of the past to get a reminder of what is possible.
The class of 1990 were beaten handsomely by the All Blacks in Wellington yet two matches later beat their trans-Tasman rivals to start their resurgence. A year later, they were world champions.
Similarly, in 1996 they were described as the ‘Woeful Wallabies’ and, again, three years later they won the World Cup at Millennium Stadium.
Even three years ago, the Springboks were smashed 57-0 in New Zealand and on the back of a coaching change built some consistency and went on to win the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019.
It is that history that Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was quick to remind his playing group following the record loss of the journey that they’ve got ahead.
“Dave was big on saying we’re five-six weeks into a four-year campaign,” McReight said.
“On the weekend we had a lot of debutants and we probably had a lack of Test caps in the whole squad as well, so that’s a great step moving forward, people can get that experience, get that exposure at the top level and grow their games.
“Obviously having that game last weekend wasn’t what we wanted in terms of result, but it unearthed some new talents, people out their getting some exposure and hopefully a lot of lessons can be taken from that game and moving forward we can build on that, get better and obviously strive for that 2023 World Cup.”
It makes Saturday night’s final trans-Tasman of the year all the more important in their development as a team.
“Whilst it may be a dead-rubber, we still have a lot to play for,” the exciting young onballer said.
“Obviously if Slip (James Slipper) gets picked it’s his 10oth game and he’s a character in the team and everyone loves Slip, so if there’s one thing we want to do we want to win for the
Queenslanders, we want to win for Australia, but we want to win for Slip, so there’s so much for this team to play for.
“While it may be a dead rubber, it’s still a chance for people to get better, people to experience the All Blacks, this is an inexperienced squad, and just to see what it’s like in these conditions where we definitely we want to rebuild, we definitely want to keep building for the future and that’s going to be very important so, this Saturday, there’s a lot to play for.”
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