After two weeks of thrashing his great mate at Jonah Lomu Rugby, Matt Giteau has paid Wallabies teammate Drew Mitchell the ultimate compliment by saying he deserves to be spoken of in the same context as the video game’s namesake.
Veteran winger Mitchell has earned a recall to the Wallabies’ starting line-up following an injury to Rob Horne, giving him a chance to close in on Lomu’s Rugby World Cup tryscoring record of 15 – which he shares with South Africa’s Bryan Habana.
Mitchell, with 12, is the most-prolific Wallabies’ World Cup tryscorer.
Yet despite bagging his 12 tries from just nine matches, few would put him in the same company as Lomu, Habana or Doug Howlett, the All Black who sits third on the all-time list with 13 tries.
Not Giteau – Mitchell’s teammate, roommate and, since they managed to source an old Playstation from Twitter a fortnight ago, his opponent in Jonah Lomu Rugby.
No, Giteau describes Mitchell as an expert finisher who fits snugly alongside the best wingers in World Cup history.
“Absolutely … to get as many tries as he has shows he’s very lethal with the ball and he’s a great finisher.
“Absolutely he belongs with those players. For me, there’s no question.”
Were it not for a shredded hamstring, suffered on his way to the tryline against Russia four years ago, Mitchell might be even closer to Lomu’s record.
That horror injury ended his 2011 World Cup, while a move to French rugby with Toulon in 2013 looked to have buried any chance he had of returning to the biggest stage in rugby union.
That changed when the Australian Rugby Union relaxed its eligibility rules and, suddenly, Mitchell was back on the radar – which is a good thing, because Giteau can’t remember him looking hungrier or playing better.
“He’s worked really hard,” said Giteau, another beneficiary of the rule change which allowed overseas players with 60 or more Tests to become eligible.
“We’ve come back from France because we wanted to play for our country.
“I speak on behalf of both of us when I say we realise how important it is and how privileged we were way back to be given this opportunity.
“Whenever we’re picked, it means a lot to us. It meant a lot to us before but I think now it just means a little bit more.
“That is certainly the case with him and myself.”
One thing which won’t change is Mitchell’s pre-game routine, which Giteau insists will be the same ahead of Saturday’s (Sunday morning AEDT) Pool A shootout with Wales.
The 31-year-old is one of the most-senior members of the Australian team but remains a child at heart.
“He’ll be dancing around, doing the splits or doing something stupid,” Giteau laughs.
“He knows that being an idiot on game day relaxes him and then he can play his best footy.”