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Tate McDermott on how Reds captaincy has changed his mental approach

The last time England toured down under, in 2016, Tate McDermott was working as food and beverage attendant at a resort on the Sunshine Coast, five minutes down the road from his family home.

On Friday, McDermott was back at the resort with a new job – delivering quality ball and energy to international teammates instead of chips, burgers and bundy and cokes to relaxing tourists.

The coincidence was striking for McDermott, greeted on his arrival in camp by a couple of “dish pig” mates from his school days and his former hotel boss, and the experience couldn’t have helped but had him reflecting on his rapid rise to the top of the game.

“It’s a special feeling being where I grew up,” McDermott said on Friday, as the Wallabies continued their preparation for the three-Test visit of England.

“It’s pretty classic, seeing the GM who was here when I was still here and a couple of my mates from school working as dish pigs.

Tate McDermott in action for the Wallabies

(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

“I worked here in 2015 and midway through 2016. We had our school formal here as well, which is why I stopped – I thought it might be a bit weird.”

McDermott spent a lot of his childhood on the nearby beaches in Maroochydore, representing the local surf club at a high level until he saw a mate drown at the nationals at Kurrawa Beach, a tragedy that prompted him to choose between his two sporting loves.

“That was a big moment in changing from the surf pathway, cutting it off and sticking to rugby,” McDermott, who was 15 at the time, told rugby.com.au in 2019.

He debuted for the Reds in 2018, and then was brought into the Wallabies in 2020, debuting in a devastating loss to New Zealand.

Last year he started the Test season against France before Nic White took the reins. But McDermott has proven resilient at every step.

“It’s been a pretty good journey so far,” he says. “I’m in my third year in this set up. It just shows you there are so many other guys coming through who could be here too.

“And it shows me not only am I lucky to be here, just to have the players around me I can learn off, guys like Nic White and Jake Gordon and Quade Cooper, those kind of guys in this environment; what a brilliant chance it is for me to get better as a player and also a person.”

This season he was given the co-captaincy of the Reds and with Liam Wright sidelined for most of the campaign, he had to shoulder a lot of responsibility.

A feature of his approach was a series of no-nonsense post match media conferences as injuries hit the team and their campaign went from promising to petering out.

He feels the past 12 months have been important for his growth.

“More so mentally, just having that season of being captain of the Reds under my belt,” McDermott said.

“It came with a helluva lot of challenges but mentally it prepared me on that tactical side of my game and that probably hasn’t been there in years past.

“I like to consider myself a runner of the ball and the feedback was always I have to be good at my core skills.

“I’m spent quite a bit of time nailing them. I’m really happy with the space I’m in with my kicking and my passing and my next challenge is around that game management side, particularly coming into Test footy.

“I like to think those opportunities that are in Super are still here in terms of my running, the ability for me to see space and take it, will still be there I’ve just got to be good enough to pick and choose my moments if I’m lucky enough to play against the English.

“I always knew it would be a challenge but I probably underestimated the size of the challenge. That’s finished. I’m happy with my chance to play footy here now, and not dwell on that and really move forward.”

Every Wallaby camp is a homecoming of sorts for most of the staff and players – a chance to get back together after going their separate ways through Super Rugby or exploits overseas.

Think of this one like a homecoming of 35 brothers ready to test each other out.

The ex-boss at the Sunshine Coast resort made up McDermott’s room nice and early – but McDermott understands no one is going to lay down the welcome mat for an easy entry into the Test team.

“There’s always that competition factor,” McDermott said. “It’s still very early days in the camp. That extra fierceness and competitiveness, not just the halfbacks but every position, will come out, because everybody wants to be in that 23 come that first Test match.”

And those who survive the internal cut will be in for another test of character.

“The English are class, they’ve got a brilliant core playing squad, guys Itoje, Youngs, Marcus smith, he’s a world class player, and Eddie Jones is still at the helm.

“Watching those games [in 2016] as a fan, obviously it was disappointing, but at the same time to see the support that Australians showed up with, and the English as well, it’s going to be a massive series.”

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