Vital input from one of the great Wallaby no.9s, Will Genia, has helped Tate McDermott get towards where he wants to be in the gold jersey.
HOME schooling took on a whole new meaning for scrum half Tate McDermott during lockdown last year with his collaboration with Wallabies great Will Genia.
Bizarrely, it took the health crisis to pause the normal flow of a hectic season and create time for their one-on-one sessions to hone specific halfback skills.
Those lockdown lessons on passing and exit kicking over 10 weeks were extremely beneficial.
To be the full package as a Test player, McDermott knows there are key areas he must zealously keep honing.
“Getting more out of my pass and those game management things about when to quicken things up or slow them down were two of the biggest areas we worked on,” McDermott said.
“Just bouncing ideas around with Will, you couldn’t help but learn about the game.”
It was a pinch-yourself partnership because McDermott was a long-haired kid in the stands when inspired by Genia’s heroics in the 2011 Super Rugby final at Suncorp Stadium.
He’s also done sessions this season with Sam Cordingley, a 22-Test half before he became the Queensland Rugby Union’s General Manager of Professional Rugby.
Most of all, McDermott’s been trying to educate himself because he’s never had a senior scrum half as a training mate in the Queensland Reds squad.
In the same vein, he’s enjoying the senior scrum half figures around the Wallabies squad where he trains daily with Brumbies stalwart Nic White and NSW Waratahs captain Jake Gordon.
He spars with White every time they play against each other, but the senior figure in the ‘Halfback Club’ also took to phoning him with encouragement during the Super Rugby season.
“Things were different when I got into Wallabies camp last year. You get to know each other and work together on improving each other’s game,” McDermott said.
“It’s really helpful for me because I’ve never had an older, more experienced halfback to work with at the Reds.”
We are all learning more about the exuberant No.9, whose qualities to back himself have built such a strong fan following.
He bounces up to fight again too. When he copped a stinging arm around the shoulder-neck from All Black lock Brodie Retallick in the recent Auckland Test, he was 40kg out of his weight division.
When he scooted from the scrumbase so expertly for the Reds against the Chiefs in Townsville in May, he knew he had to run right to the face of the defence to best put centre Isaac Henry into a hole.
Henry was racing away to score while McDermott was dusting himself off from a late contact to the head that earned Damian McKenzie a three-game suspension.
In Test rugby’s land of the giants, fans love a big play from a tiny underdog.
As a youngster, McDermott studied Wallabies scrum halves for running role models.
He sized up Genia but also Luke Burgess, who played 37 Tests during his time as a Waratah and Melbourne Rebel. Burgess now lives in Tasmania.
The livewire didn’t grow up practicing boring box kicks as a kid in pick-up games played in a neighbour’s front yard at Mudjimba on the Sunshine Coast.
“To me, sniping around rucks is what all the good No.9s do,” McDermott said.
“I never played league but I watched a lot of (rugby league’s) Billy Slater and I just wanted to be a runner of the ball.”
McDermott’s first taste of wearing Australian colours came in rugby sevens in 2017 when his jinking, veering, changes of pace and opportunism were perfectly suited.
He’s always been a snipe-first half and the best Reds’ wins of recent years have invariably had a McDermott moment.
It might be a quick-tap try, a sidestepping run through the tall timber to set up one or a delayed pass at the line to put a big backrower or winger into a hole.
Two strong second half cameos for Australia to open the series against the French earned him his start in the series-decider and a first taste of a full-on All Blacks haka at Eden Park.
“It was pretty cool. As a kid you are usually watching the haka on the tele with your family,” McDermott said.
“To be there in real life, in the thick of it, is something special to be a part of.”
McDermott is an upbeat, open and engaging young footballer. Fans and TV viewers enjoyed his honest emotions when interviewed on field after the 33-25 loss to the All Blacks on August 7.
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The questions were always going to start sympathetically about how positive it was for the Wallabies to score three late tries. McDermott would have none of it. He was dirty, it showed and we all wanted to see that obvious disdain for losing that he gave us.
“We lost. It was frustration over our inability to control the game for 15 minutes there where we made errors, fell off tackles and gave away penalties. As one of the game controllers, we’ve got to be better or it’s more pain,” he said.
When the experienced James O’Connor was at the rudder at flyhalf for the Reds this season, McDermott’s role was more one of feeding him to have play initiated off No.10.
When O’Connor was injured, the Reds used McDermott, from scrum half, as the main trigger for their attack and he found a rich vein of running form.
With 21-year-old Noah Lolesio at flyhalf, McDermott does have more scope to initiate a lot of the Wallabies’ play.
The McDermott-Lolesio halves pairing is the fifth of Dave Rennie’s reign.
There are sure to be tweaks again but Tate McDermott has already shown the spark and passion to be part of plans all the way to the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023.