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Matt Giteau opens up on his bitter departure from Australian rugby

Different man: Matt Giteau said he has grown as a person since leaving Australia.

Different man: Matt Giteau said he has grown as a person since leaving Australia. Photo: AFP

When Matt Giteau reflects on his decision to leave Australia after he missed selection in the Wallabies squad for the 2011 World Cup, he admits the episode that centred on his publicised divide with then coach Robbie Deans does not paint a pretty picture.

But it is a measure of the man – and not just the player – that on the eve of playing for his French club, Toulon, in the Top 14 final in Paris on Sunday morning (Sydney time) that he raises his hand and takes account for his role in the bitter split.

Debate surrounding that departure was reignited last week when Englishman Jonny Wilkinson said of his Toulon teammate: "I don't quite know how a team ever let him go in Australia to come over here."

Since joining Toulon from the Brumbies three years ago with a Test record of 92 caps, Giteau, 31, has embraced French rugby and the French lifestyle.

He lives in the hills of Carqueiranne, overlooking Toulon, with his wife, Bianca, and their two young sons, Levi and Kai.

"I've got the balance right with my family and everything," he says. "I'm enjoying it, loving it.

"The family is happy. Rugby has its rightful place in my life."

Leaving Australia – and the fallout with Deans

Giteau, calm and assured as he speaks, even steers conversation to the key issue behind his exile – his omission from the 2011 Wallabies World Cup squad by Deans.

"It wasn't under the best terms, publicly," Giteau says. "I had some blame in that. The way I portrayed myself was probably a bit childish and lacked a bit of maturity.  

"I hadn't been in that situation throughout my whole career. Then, when I was out, I reacted quite poorly and am a bit embarrassed about it, now that I have slept on it. I was a bit childish. But it could have been handled a little better [by the ARU]."

Giteau credits his turnaround to the need to prove himself and earn respect at Toulon.

"I started from what I thought was the bottom here and just tried to improve and get the respect of the players and win things – that really humbled me," Giteau says.

"Having kids really puts rugby into perspective. It really reinvigorated me."

As for his strained relationship with Deans, Giteau says: "We haven't spoken since."

"I just think we just saw things differently. Robbie had an opinion of me as a player. I had been incredibly fortunate to have so many Wallabies coaches pick when I was out of form.

"I'm not sure [Deans] saw I had any value to add to the World Cup group." 

Wilkinson – the legend and inspiration

A major influence on Giteau at Toulon has been Wilkinson, 35. Saturday's Top 14 final will be Wilkinson's last in a 17-year career that includes 91 Tests for England and six for the British and Irish Lions.

Giteau is forever impressed by the standards Wilkinson sets for himself, and his teammates, no matter which side it is.

"Whether it is to play in a midweek team, or in the last game of his career, he trains and prepares intensely like no one I have ever seen," Giteau says.

"The fact he has played for as long as he has, and prepared as hard as he has for every game, really shows the strength of his character."

As for Wilkinson’s post-match praise of him in Cardiff last weekend, Giteau says he first heard of it from Toulon teammate and former Wallaby and Waratah Drew Mitchell.

"It's incredibly flattering coming from someone you respect as highly as I do Jonny," Giteau says. "To gets some praise like that from him is incredibly humbling."

Backing up: From Heineken Cup to Top 14 finals

Giteau is relishing the idea of backing up from last week's Heineken Cup final for the Top 14 decider, especially as the double eluded Toulon last year when Castres beat them for the French title.

"Titles don't come around as easy as that," Giteau says.

"Our biggest challenge is getting up physically and mentally. These games take so much out of you.

"We are taking this game probably harder than Saracens with our history with Castres. Last year, it was the same but they were too good. The boys want this one."

A team of champions can be a champion team

Toulon are a star-studded club with players like Giteau, Wilkinson, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Bakkies Botha, Carl Hayman, Bryan Habana and Juan Smith.

But Giteau says that the secret to the Mourad Boudjellal-owned club's success is not just the highly paid star status of the club, but their collective motivation, even though most of their international careers are over.

"You can't just buy a competition," Giteau says.

"The guys have come with the right attitude, wanting to win and to give everything to improve and be better players.

"There are no egos. Anyone who thinks they can come in and believe they are better than the next … it doesn't work.

"Everyone respects each other and are there to win." 

Playing for the people, rather than the organisation

Giteau believes that playing for a town or city like Toulon, rather than a state and/or national federation, adds a sense of attachment for the foreign payers to local fans.

It also helps a player focus on their club and not be distracted by national selection.

"In Australia, you play half a year for your country, half a year for your province and, when once you are done with your province, you are playing with guys who have competed against in the national team," he says.

"Your focus can sometimes go off your province because you want to play well. All we have to worry about from a rugby sense is to just perform the best I can for Toulon.

"It binds the guys tighter and you do become committed to the town and the region." 

Unfinished Wallabies business?

Giteau is only eight Test caps shy of 100 and would readily make himself available to play for the Wallabies again, if needed.

But even were the ARU to change its policy of not selecting players based overseas, he believes Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, who he has not spoken to recently, should back the talent pool based in Australia.

Asked if he would like to play for the Wallabies again, Giteau, who will be off contract at Toulon next year, says: "Absolutely. Any opportunity you can get to play for your country, you would take it. That is still the pinnacle.

"It is something I probably took for granted when I was in Australia, at times.

"Once you have it taken away, you really realise how precious and important it was.

"Given the opportunity, I would love to do it. But realistically, the talent they have now – the young guys coming through – is where the future of Australian rugby is."

After watching the Wallabies win four of their five games in their European spring tour last year, Giteau says: "They are tracking well and getting fluidity in their game.

"Everyone also understands their roles. They were playing some superb rugby.

"If they can start where they left off, they will be incredibly hard to beat this year."

18 comments so far

  • It take a strong person to admit when they are wrong, I tip my hat to you Matt

    Commenter
    Taffy
    Location
    Ingleburn
    Date and time
    May 31, 2014, 9:01PM
    • +1 and Giteau is still the best at 10 or inside centre in Australian rugby indeed today. The ARU has a lot to answer for but they will not and insist they had done all they could. They certainly should have done better.

      Commenter
      Akari
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 10:52AM
    • @ Akari

      Rubbish.... but well done Matt for fessing-up about the way you handled (not) your non-selection for the Wallaby when Deans was the new coach.
      Bravo sir.... as it takes a man to know when he has behaved like an immature boy.
      Hey, as @ Harvey K-Tel says.... 'probably right - that ship's sailed' as to your Wallaby career but alas, your time since is anything but wrong...especially in what will surely be your legacy in the French comp etc. for Toulon. In fact, high praise indeed and warranted coming from Jonny.... and geez who's to argue otherwise in regards to that praise !

      Commenter
      Machooka
      Location
      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 4:34PM
    • Glad to see you have grown up, sorry but any bloke who cuts sick at team mates because things aren't going the way he thinks they should be should not represent their country, i.e your time in the West.

      Probably as everyone told you how good you were before you had the maturity to deal with that, amazing how the ego explodes with a bit of smoke blown up your bum!!

      Good luck, but respect is earn't not deserved because you think it is.

      Commenter
      Koro
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 10:40PM
  • A lot of people have recently commented on fairfax, giving their opinion of Giteau. I think this article should really be read by all the people that so easily criticised him. Yes, the bloke didn't end his tenure here in Australia all too well, he's admitted that himself. But he still proudly wore our jersey for a long time and gave great service to the Wallabies. He's come a long way in Toulon on and off the field and is probably in the best form of his career. I think the future talent deserve a jersey over Giteau but I'd love to see him start or come off the bench for the Wallabies one more time (or eight).

    Commenter
    phil
    Date and time
    June 01, 2014, 12:13AM
    • A blessing in disguise. He is enjoying life much more than he would if he was struggling to win a title with the Brumbies and Wallabies. He could slip into Wilkinson's spot next year, which would cap off a great 4 years.

      Commenter
      Ben
      Date and time
      June 01, 2014, 1:51AM
      • How old fashioned is the ARU? If a player is good enough it shouldn't matter whether they are playing super 15 or in Timbuktu. What a bunch of wowsers!

        Commenter
        Reg
        Location
        Jervis Bay
        Date and time
        June 01, 2014, 4:59AM
        • Admit he is wrong? I think there was a measure of "look what you made me do" there.
          He thought he was bigger than the game. I don't think he has changed. Stay in France and enjoy the football.

          Commenter
          Hatchet
          Date and time
          June 01, 2014, 8:02AM
          • well said Matt....a great career to reflect back on, and a fantastic time ahead for you and your family. Have watched you many times and watched your dad even more times. Your record certainly makes better reading than that of a certain former Australian rugby coach.....Well done Gits!

            Commenter
            palepilsen
            Location
            gold coast
            Date and time
            June 01, 2014, 8:43AM
            • I'd love to see him go out on top (i.e. when he decides and in a Wallaby jersey), but he's probably right - that ship's sailed. Great respect for his attitude now and for taking his cut of the blame, all the best.

              Commenter
              Harvey K-Tel
              Date and time
              June 01, 2014, 10:05AM

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