Potential Wallaby Bolter Tate McDermott - Green and Gold Rugby
Queensland Reds

Potential Wallaby Bolter Tate McDermott

Potential Wallaby Bolter Tate McDermott

Australia has had an enviable legacy at halfback. I won’t go into detail regarding the long list of world-class players who have worn the 9 jersey, but simply the fact that we have been able to have arguably the best scrumhalf in the world playing for the Wallabies since at least 1984 (Nick Farr-Jones followed by George Gregan followed by Will Genia) says something. This could go back even further if one includes the likes of John Hipwell, Ken Catchpole, and Cyril Burke. Even the Reds in the 2018 and 2019 seasons have been presented with a selection dilemma with Ben Lucas, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle, and Tate McDermott competing to wear the 9 jersey.

In my view there is no dilemma whatsoever. This season in particular, Sunshine Coast product McDermott has lifted his game to the point where he is not only the premier halfback at the Reds but also the premier halfback in Australia under 30. After watching Joe Powell deliver attacking ball at a snail’s pace to his Brumbies teammates against the Crusaders this weekend, it is clear that this battle – which is essentially for the Wallabies starting scrumhalf position at the 2023 World Cup – has become a two-horse race between McDermott and Jake Gordon. Nic White’s likely return to Super Rugby may complicate matters in the short term, but he will be 33 by the time the Webb Ellis Cup goes up for grabs again in France.

Reece Hodge, Lukhan Tui, Quade Cooper, Joe Powell and Jake Gordon at the Captain's Run

Joe Powell and Jake Gordon are current Wallaby scrumhalf back-ups

McDermott turns 21 this year, the same age that Gregan first wore the green and gold in 1994 and Genia in 2009 (Farr-Jones was 22 when he debuted against England in 1984). Despite his tender young age, McDermott has already won the Queensland Colts and Premier club competitions with the University of Queensland as well as the National Rugby Championship with Queensland Country. He has also captained the Australian under-20s side and represented the country in sevens. Australia usually only takes two scrumhalves to the World Cup so it is unlikely that McDermott will be flying to Japan, but if he keeps up his form throughout the Super Rugby season then he may very well become the top choice for injury cover.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to quantify the effect that a good halfback has on a team. A halfback touches the ball more than any other player and covers more ground throughout the match, so it is probably fair to say that a scrumhalf can change the character of a team more than any other single player. I have previously spoken about the godliness of flyhalves, but they get far fewer touches and typically marshal mostly those wearing 11 through 15. Conversely, scrumhalves are the primary communicators of a team, directing forward traffic as well as selectively feeding the ball to both forwards and backs. While flyhalves aim to put backs into space, scrumhalves aim to put everyone into space, and they have a lot more chances to make mistakes while doing it. A good example of this occurs in the 54th minute of Saturday’s game between the Waratahs and the Blues, when Phipps managed to thread a pass between four Wallaby runners below, hitting none of them.

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The best I can do here is to say that I have watched the Reds game against the Stormers twice and can’t recall any time that McDermott tossed a pass over someone’s head, or behind them. His pass is very close to the ideal bullet-pass that all scrumhalves should aspire to, hitting the runner right in front of their chest at speed – and like most halfbacks he averages almost a pass a minute. In this regard, I would say that he stands above rival Jake Gordon. Not only this, but he also manages to pass the ball straight from the base of the ruck or after genuinely challenging the line (as opposed to running sideways before tossing a hospital pass), which is sadly not always a common attribute among halfbacks. It’s astonishing that such consistency can come from such a young player.

Not only this, but like most of the players I write articles about he has an incredibly good defensive ability. While Wallabies incumbents Genia and Phipps have made only 68% (17 of 25) and 77% (17 of 22) of their tackles this year, McDermott stands above the rest with a perfect 100% tackle success rate (21 of 21 tackles).

This is despite the fact that, as a scrumhalf, he is usually the smallest player on the field. He also plays the “sweeper” role for the Reds, which is common for halfbacks. As a sweeper, his role is to run a few metres behind the defensive line to defuse short kicks and half-breaks (this positioning can be seen in the image below). McDermott is also unafraid to insert himself into the defensive line if there is a gap that needs filling.

Image 2

Despite the difficulty in showcasing a halfback’s contributions to a team, there were a few times this weekend that McDermott stepped above and beyond what a run-of-the-mill ball distributor halfback would do.

Most notably, McDermott scored a great solo try from a quick tap in the 66th minute of the Stormers game (below). Despite having run probably more than 7km in over an hour of play as well as making 62 passes, McDermott was alert enough to recognise the opportunity, bold enough to take it instead of falling back on the scrum, and athletic enough to pull it off. This is his third try in 3 starts this year.

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McDermott is also directly responsible for Brandon Paenga-Amosa’s 45th minute try. Modern defences are desperate to disrupt attacking ball by pressuring the halfback, and McDermott uses this to his advantage to draw the defender at the fringes of the ruck (Jacobus van Dyk wearing 7) before popping the ball for a rampaging Samu Kerevi (below).

Image 4

McDermott keeps up with the play and when Hamish Stewart is brought down with the ball about 15 metres out, McDermott throws a successful dummy to elude the Stormers defender (Sergeal Peterson wearing 14) before sprinting down the sideline himself (below). He is brought down about 3 metres out by an illegally high tackle by Stormers prop Corne Fourie (wearing 1) and would otherwise likely have scored a second try. Nevertheless, Paenga-Amosa is able to shovel the ball over the line a few moments later.

Image 5

This is not the only time McDermott goes on an effective run. In the 13th minute, McDermott receives the ball from a collapsed scrum and again utilises the dummy pass to make a solid 30 metres for the Reds (below).

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The Paenga-Amosa try is also not the only time that McDermott puts a runner into a gap by drawing a defender at the fringes of the ruck. In the 64th minute, McDermott draws the tackle of Herschel Jantjies (wearing 21) in order to put Scott Higginbotham into space (below). A try would have been scored off the back of this play if not for the fact that the ball is accidentally passed to an opposition player 17 seconds later.

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McDermott’s kicking game is promising as well. He only kicks a few times this game, but in the 43rd minute manages to put the ball into space and gain the Reds almost 50 metres (below).

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Not pictured above are the times that McDermott capably cleans up a loose ball at the back of a lineout or ruck, managing to get effective passes away while falling to the ground or staying on his feet for long enough for support to arrive. McDermott also probes the line a number of times, and this tactic is supported by the Reds style of play wherein the forwards take turns to repeatedly charge at the defensive line on the same side of the ruck. This causes opposing forwards to be drawn into that space, and McDermott is often nimble enough to dart around them. Even if he is tackled, the Reds pack is close at hand to protect the ball.

The only blemish to McDermott’s performance this weekend was when he failed to anticipate a backhanded offload from Kerevi in the 55th minute, and in fairness the offload came very late.

With only 297 minutes (53% of Reds game time) under his belt this season and Jake Gordon in similar form, it is probably too soon to be pushing for McDermott to appear in gold at the World Cup. However, McDermott is showing this season that he has the potential to be the next man who could be playing scrumhalf for the Wallabies for a solid decade or more.

  • Jason

    Perhaps not entirely his fault, but McDermott does often get isolated when he snipes. Perhaps not his fault but he’s gotta call a forward or two with him when he’s going to run like he does.

    He’s clearly been in very good form but he has been hot and cold in the past.

    Other players to consider, Moses Sorovi and James Tuttle who give different benefits too. Tuttle is probably the ideal backup (when he’s not injured!) is a more than capable halfback but bonus he’s an exceedingly capable goal kicker — nothing like bringing in an 80%+ goal kicker to close out a game.
    As for Sorovi there is an energy he brings, you look at the Reds forward pack when Sorovi is on the field they just play harder he’s like a little general barking orders at his forwards organising them.

    All in all the Reds have 3 brilliant young halfbacks (I’m assuming Lucas is playing elsewhere) ideally you’d love all three to combine into one big player.

    • RF

      He’d learn.

      Invest in the game time. Things like this can be easily fixed, especially working with the top level coaches and with the top level players.

      Conor Murray arrived in Australia with the Lions in 2013 with a flawed game and very rough around the edges, he left the tour as one of the premier scrum-halves in the game.

      • Jason

        Oh I don’t disagree, my point is more that there are many players who could step up to be the next great Aussie halfback, Tuttle in particular would be an amazing asset for Aussie rugby particularly as he’d allow us to stop picking our flyhalf based on goal kicking (not that we really should be anyway). And what Sorovi brings to his forwards can’t be measured by his stats alone, I think Thron is actually doing a really good job of getting game time to many of his young up-and-coming players.
        Blyth and Hockings have been very impressive for such young locks for example, moving Lotu to 6 is actually probably what the Reds need from him more than the Wallabies. It would be very difficult to manage so many young players with basically every position up for grabs.

      • Andy

        Conor Murray looked amazing on that tour. I had never seen or heard of him prior to that but I thought he was so good off the bench. No surprise he went on to become the best in the world.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      I must admit I like the speed of Sorovi when he passes, he really gets the ball out fast

      • Huw Tindall

        At this stage I feel Sorovi is a poor mans Phipps. Almost unparalleled speed to the breakdown but sprays too many passes. Both have great motors and pace. If I remember correctly Phipps was one of the fastest in the Wallabies time trials and posted top numbers on the beep test etc. All great things but ONLY after you can pass properly 99.9% of the time.

        • RugbyReg

          The Reds have brought some expertise in to work with the halfbacks to work on their passes. Sorovi will be sorted. Plenty of talent. He’ll be back.

        • Cameron Rivett

          He seems to be this way at the moment but he has shown glimpses of what he can offer last year and in the NRC. He’s close to the bottom of the list of Reds scrumhalves based on form for me right now, but I think that as Reg says, he’ll be back.

        • Jason

          Except Phipps gets the ball out incredibly slowly. Sorovi get’s the ball out of the ruck very quickly and is also quite dangerous sniping himself.

          I think all of them have that level of erraticism – there 20 odd. Phipps on the other hand IMO offers nothing of value, he might get to the ruck quickly, but the ball is often slow coming, his passes are inaccurate and he does really moronic things when he’s on the field. It’s an indictment on Australian Rugby that he’s got as many test caps as he does. The difference was palpable when Genia came back into the Wallabies picture.

  • laurence king

    You mention some good half-backs, but there’s one you missed, Wallaby 722 from Singleton. Steve Merrick.

    • RugbyReg

      and Sam Payne, and Peter Slattery, and Brad Burke and Brian Smith. Lots of halfbacks have played for Australia…

      • Bobas

        Justice for Brett Sheehan and Matt Henjak, they certainly deserve a mention.

        • Who?

          And Des Connor!!! One of the great halfback innovators, 12 Tests for Australia, then 12 for the All Blacks (including captaining them – I believe he moved over there for work), before coming back and coaching in Australia.
          .
          But if we just look at long term incumbents, we’re looking Genia, Gregan, Farr Jones, Hipwell, Catchpole, Connor. That’s a list of incumbent greats that any nation would be proud to claim. :-)

        • GeorgiaSatellite

          Nick Phipps anyone? I jest…

    • Adrian

      Merrick a 100% class act

    • Cameron Rivett

      I missed many, it is by no means a comprehensive list.

    • Cameron Rivett

      Also wanted to add that not only is Merrick from the Hunter, but also Nic White and John Hipwell. There seems to be a good halfback tradition here.

  • laurence king

    Good write-up Cameron, his effort over the weekend was great and the young man certainly looks the goods. I remember in a recent game, McDermott threading a pass accurately in traffic as he was being upended.

  • Brumby Runner

    McDermott is an exciting prospect and in my eyes clearly better than the alternatives at the Reds. I don’t expect him to go to Japan as the three premier No 9s in Cheika’s eyes are Will G, Phipps and Gordon. He would offer more and gain more himself from being at the RWC than Phipps does or would, but it probably won’t be.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      he also might be grateful for not being part of the current setup. I think he’s definitely a good prospect and is displaying a lot of really good skills. I think he needs to learn not to step before he passes as much and I’d hate for him to be pushed too early. I know that’s often quite subjective and if he’s good enough; then he’s good enough. I personally would like to see more of him to establish his consistency before I’d rush him into the Wallabies

      • Trevor Manuel

        A point you make
        a lot of really good skills. I think he needs to learn not to step before he passes. This is so critical a failing crept into farr Jones, gregson and now genia after each returned from major injury a fraction gun shy to even run with ball.

        Alas now others think norm and do the same killing their no10s and runners. It shortened Larkhams career. Combined with crazy that unlike kiwis and islands our hit ups take ball too often flat footed making easy targets.

  • Patrick

    That’s all very well but really, did he even play Shute Shield? I don’t remember seeing him at the club.

    • GO THE Q REDS

      Are you replying to me?
      Mcdermont played in both the colts and the Premier teams for UniQld last year. 2or 3games off the bench from memory.

      • Patrick

        2/2 complete humour fails from me today, sorry!!

        That was not in any way intended to be a serious suggestion.

  • GO THE Q REDS

    Great analysis. And your right it’s too early to be considering Mcdermont for any higher honours just yet. Just last year everyone was convinced Ruru was the next best thing! I think there needs to be solid consistency and time for other teams to test and work out your weaknesses. But if he has a strong rest of the season I would have ZERO problems taking such a young player to the WC. Obviously with trials of sorts with the tests beforehand.
    I remember Mcdermont impressing me when he walked past me on the sideline last year at a club game. His team mates were all excited and celebrating and Mcdermont was still chatting tactics and maneuvers!
    Like you said…. Very impressive for such a young fella!!!

  • Huw Tindall

    Great article again Cameron!

    Only thing I’d add to the Tate-fest is that he has has some serious gas (of the good kind). Like Beauden Barrett this alone can be a real differentiator.

    Also, what happened to Tuttle? Seemed like a genuine quality player in the making and a great goal kicker to boot. Is he even signed to a Super team this year?

    • RugbyReg

      hes contracted but is injured. Out for the season

      • Huw Tindall

        Ah right thanks Reg! More #9 competition in years to come then.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I agree. I feel like Australian rugby teams lost a lot of speed in the mid-2010s in favour of bulk and only now are we beginning to see the worth of smaller faster players like Barrett and McKenzie. I’m not sure Cheika sees it though, we may have to wait until next year for smaller players to get a chance.

      • Who?

        Cheika definitely doesn’t see it, he was the one who brought in our big, slow wings…

      • GO THE Q REDS

        Funny thing is Barrett’s not that small for a 10probably the 2nd biggest going around after the Sharks 10 Depreez I think his name is. The other Barret’s even bigger. And McKenzie isn’t that fast either. Can’t think of a winger that wouldn’t take him in a foot race. He’s very elusive tho. That’s why he shines in open play from Fullback. And yet he’s still far from the best FB going around atm. Folou, Havili, Melani Nani, Kirwin Bosch…..all playing much cleaner solid rugby! BUT he’s a Massive XFactor player thats very hard to leave out of your team. An exception to the general rule perhaps. . .

        • Who?

          You know what’s funny? Barrett’s listed size is 6’2″, 92kg. Debreczeni’s bigger, Cooper’s EXACTLY the same size as Barrett, just a different shape.

  • MungBean

    Get him in there. Why wait?

  • Straith

    In my opinion, Why Aaron Smith is one of the best players in the world and the best at 9 is his pace and accuracy. The fellow is an absolute gun at delivering cannon like ball from the base of the ruck at a pace years ahead of the competition. I swear he plays his own mini game of seeing how fast he can get a ball just carried into a tackle to another players hand. Its fucked and it forms the base for all of the All Blacks attack as teams defense just can’t keep up with the rate of phases he manages to pump out.

    Tate Mcdermott resembles the same pace and accuracy and if he is coached to focus on getting the ball off the ground as fast as humanly possible he will carry his teams to premierships.
    The thought of a wallabies team tearing defenses apart with an insane pace of play and eyes up rugby is so possible it just requires the coaches to base a game plan and team off of it.
    Imagine our forwards charging onto balls before opposition defenders can get set up, chewing 10m off with every run. and then quade cooper putting folau through gaps the size of Taniela Tupou’s thighs. Samu kerivi bulldozing through players on their backfoot at full speed.
    I dream.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I think if the Wallabies had a choice between Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara they should go with Perenara. Perenara offers so much around the park to offset his slightly poorer pass. The ABs choose Smith because it’s pretty important to give the World Player of the Year the best ball possible, but if you swap him out for Bernard Foley the mathematics change slightly in my opinion. I think Tate could be a good mix of both though; he has the running sense and defensive prowess as well as the pass for it. We just need to see if his form can be sustained long-term and if it holds up in bigger games really.

      • Who?

        TJ’s also a better ref than Smith. :-P
        That said, Foley needs every millisecond he can get. The better the player, the more time they seem to have. Foley needs to run at retreating defences. It was the key to the 2014 Tahs. Mad pace from Phipps.

  • Patrick

    haha indeed even Wallaby “tactics”

  • I think there’s a good measure and a decent eyeball measure for scrum halves and how they contribute to the game.

    The first is the “velocity to first receiver” which is a bit of a bitch to measure, but you take the distance from the base of the ruck to the person that receives and divide by the time from picking the ball up to being in the next player’s hands. That lets you account for short pop-passes, passes to a fly-half back in the pocket, or up on the line and so on. If you’ve got a lot of video analysis tools you can do that.

    The easier one to measure as a fan is a two-fold thing, steps the scrum-half takes before passing – low is good, and steps the receiver takes before acting where high is good. If you want a single measure you subtract the first from the second to give an overall number.

    The second one is a bit of a mixed bag because if you imagine a pop-pass to a forward who takes two steps and gets hit (that would be the action, going to ground) but everyone will get some of those, so they should balance out. If you’ve got a fly-half who aggressively plays very flat and has little time, you’re going to get a lot of low numbers on the second than if you’re passing to a full-time pocket 10 who has more time and space. But, that flat 10 will hopefully get some line breaks and long runs to drag their average up, unless your side is being swallowed defensively throughout.

    Not perfect, but you get a decent measure of how well the scrum-half is doing their core job, with some numbers to let you compare them across games and even to try and compare different scrum halves.

Queensland Reds

Somehow still a Wallabies fan. Enjoys brainstorming ideas on how to fix Australian rugby. Waratahs/North Sydney/Country Eagles supporter. Ex-Kiwi with just a touch of love left for the Highlanders and Otago.

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