The shining light for the Wallabies in record Bledisloe Cup defeat
Whichever way you look at it, a 57-22 defeat against the All Blacks is a poor return for the Wallabies but while the team as a whole may have failed to contain the threat of the men in black, there was one major shining light for the visiting Australians at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Halfback Tate McDermott, in just his third test start, was a constant menace for the Wallabies and built on his solid outing last weekend.
McDermott, who helped the Reds to a Super Rugby AU title earlier this season, made his international debut in Sydney last year and played three further tests off the bench over the past 12 months against New Zealand and France.
While McDermott always injected his trademark livewire play into the game upon his late arrivals, it’s as a starting scrumhalf that the 22-year-old has looked most assured, being able to balance his running game with the core duties of distribution and controlling field position.
That first start came in in the third test of the Wallabies’ July series with Les Bleus, when McDermott helped his side to a 33-30 win, securing the series 2-1 for the Australians.
McDermott has now gone from strength to strength in the two Bledisloe Cup matches with the All Blacks where he’s gone head-to-head with arguably the world’s best halfback in Aaron Smith.
While Smith has always been second-to-none in the passing stakes, McDermott has matched the man nine years his senior in the ball-running stakes over the first two games of the three-match series.
In the opening game, a 33-25 loss, McDermott ran for 36 metres – the third most of any player in the Wallabies squad. While his team as a whole were more industrious on attack in the second match, McDermott was still able to break through the line for a well-taken try, dodging the tackle of Dalton Papalii, one of the most secure defenders on the field.
Speaking after the match, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was full of praise for how his 22-year-old halfback has built on his game since coming into the national set-up.
“Real credit to Tate,” said Rennie. “He’s had a massive focus on the quality of his distribution and his kicking game. He’s always been a very good runner.
“He’s developing nicely and he’s a real handful. If you’ve got a 9 that’s a genuine threat, it’s hard [for the opposition] to bring line speed around those rucks so his ability to create space for himself and others is a real strength and he had a big game tonight.”
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Were it not for an untimely injury to Nic White in the lead-up to the French series, McDermott’s chances to grow through big-game experience may have not presented themselves.
White, as the incumbent, would likely have worn the No 9 jersey against France and New Zealand – and McDermott entered the July series as the third choice, behind White and Jake Gordon.
The unfortunate MCL injury to White, however, gave McDermott a foot in the door and after compelling work off the bench in the opening tests against France, the decision to start the Queenslander was likely all too easy for Rennie.
White, fit again, came off the bench against the All Blacks on Saturday night. Now, Rennie must decide whether to preserve with McDermott as the starter for the third test against NZ, or to reinstate White.
The third and final Bledisloe Cup match of the year will be played in Perth in two weeks’ time.
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