Playing in front of The South Stand
Drew Mitchell, the Australian rugby player, was in Hong Kong for the Rugby Sevens, and we caught up with him on a 'V1’ Volvo 60 Racing Yacht - once the fastest yacht in its class. Even though he’s been capped 44 times for his country (appearing at two World Cups) Drew wasn’t too thrilled by the venue, explaining that he “sometimes gets seasick in a bar.” The winger was ruled out of this year’s Sevens through injury, and a quick look at his purple, blue and green leg explained why. It also begged the question - what on earth happened there?
We were at dinner and my mate backed his Merc AMG onto my leg.
You weren’t injured playing rugby?
No, it was a A$200,000 car.
And what happened to your other leg? (pointing to a scar)
That was from playing - I dislocated my ankle - it’s happened twice since April of last year.
Do you get depressed from injury?
Yeah, you can. I just got told last week that I’m out for another four months.
How does it affect you - does it make you angry?
There is a bit of frustration but then you’re quick to realize there’s no point getting upset. There are times when it’s hard though - like when you see all the boys getting excited for the weekend. When they’re playing you just want to be out there helping them.
Who’s your favorite player?
Well, you become quite biased when you know the guys. I think Matt Giteau (below) is the guy though - he is just the best competitor. He’s good at what he does, he enjoys it as well and he has overall appreciation. Some guys take things a little too seriously but he has good balance about it – he knows when to switch on and off.
Aside from the obvious (representing your country for the first time) it would have to be coming back from injury to play in the 2011 World Cup. I didn’t have long to recover, I was a little up against it, and people weren’t expecting me to come back but I did. Unfortunately the consequence of not having everything in line was a torn hamstring.
Doesn’t your medical team tell you when you’re not ready?
Yeah, but it was tricky. I could run as fast as usual but the training and playing load is difficult to handle when you’re healthy, let alone when you’re recovering from an injury, and about three weeks into my second World Cup I tore my hamstring.
What do you want to do after rugby?
I don’t know, but with the injury I have had time to think a little more about it.
You’re still a young guy though?
I’m 28 so getting older in the rugby sense but I’m not the type of guy who could sit at a desk. I need to find something that keeps me going, something physical.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing rugby?
I was one of those kids who changed what they wanted to do every week but my father and two brothers are in the army so there’s a fair chance if I wasn’t playing rugby I’d have camouflage on my cheeks and be sitting in a trench somewhere.
Sounds terrifying, have you ever been scared on the pitch?
Not really. Sometimes there’s a little nervousness when you see a guy bigger than you running straight at you but you’re not scared. The only time I was really scared was when I looked down and saw my foot and ankle facing the wrong way. The pain was one thing but mentally to see it was another. For a while every time I watched a game on TV and saw a tackle I felt like I was about to watch someone do their ankle in.
Do you think that that any team other than NZ could have won the 2011 World Cup?
Yeah, I’m not taking anything away from the Kiwis because in the end they deserved to win but in a tournament scenario you can have teams like France who weren’t playing consistently well but came within a few points of winning it. They had chances to win that game (2011 World Cup Final).
What’s the hardest thing for a team to get right?
Getting an even balance between everything. You can have the most talented players and the best coach but unless everyone is on the same page and buying into what you’re trying to achieve as a group then it just doesn’t work. Then mental application and endurance are the hardest things to come by because there are obstacles through long seasons and unless you are able to get through them, and refocus, then you’ll find it almost impossible.
What’s been the biggest change to the game over the last decade?
Defense. It’s become a lot better and players who were maybe skilled at other things have been pushed to become great defensively as well. It’s much more organized, it’s not as open and it’s just harder to score. Every team has a defensive coach and it’s much more structured.
Rugby has become more commercial in the past few years - do you think it’s affected the sincerity of the sport?
I think there are too many games in the calendar and that’s because of TV rights and the money being made from it. To play 50 tests matches for your country 10 – 20 years ago was huge, but now we have guys who are only four years into their careers and they’ve played 50 tests because there are 15/year now.
You’ve been to HK a lot?
I played in the Sevens in 2003 and have played a few other matches here so I think this is my fifth time to Hong Kong. When I usually come here I’m playing and the training and pre-game schedule keep you busy but this time I can enjoy it a bit more.
Partying it up?
Definitely been out a couple times but there is so much to do.
Is the South Stand distracting?
Well, it’s hard sometimes because the players stand there before the game and they can see and hear this massive party. It does you in mentally because you know the sooner you lose the sooner you get to join that crazy mob.
What do you drive?
Well, I’m sponsored by Volvo so I have a big X90 four wheel drive.
Have a cold beer after the game?
Oh yeah, after a game I like to get straight on the beers weather we win or lose. I don’t think you should just celebrate the wins - I think you need to come together after a loss so I’m the first one in the fridge fishing for the beers after the game.
You guys have to eat healthily and take care of your bodies but what’s your favorite thing to tuck into when you don’t have a care in the world?
A bucket of KFC. You watch the cricket all through the summer and there is a KFC advert in every TV break so when you’re managing your food intake it’s torture. You just end up driving down the road and getting it - that’s my Achilles heel.
Want some now don't you?
If you could have dinner with one person from history who would it be?
I think it would be someone fun loving like a rock star – not someone political. I would just want to kick on with them after dinner.
A colorful Chinese junk passes by the yacht we’re on and Drew says, “That’s a flash back.”
What flash back?
A teammate brought a Chinese junk down to Sydney for one of our end of season parties. We figured it was best to keep the carnage on the boat instead of in town because twenty odd guys rolling around drunk doesn’t usually bring us the press we desire. So we had our end of season party on the Chinese junk instead which resulted in some stories that are not in the press… and that’s a good thing.
Very HK of you guys, that’s a regular weekend for us in the summer. Enjoy the rest of the week here…
Hard not to, it’s the 7’s…
If you want to rent out the 'V1’ Volvo 60 Racing Yacht for the day, it’s available through Hong Kong Yachting.