Stirling Mortlock, the rising sun beckons
Rugby

Stirling, Japan is your best bet

Stirling, Japan is your best bet
A shadow of his former self

A shadow of his former self

You don’t like saying it of a champion but Father Time has finally caught up with Stirling Mortlock.

Like George Gregan, who stayed too long at this level, he just ain’t the player he used to be.

He’s lost some pace, is starting to fall off tackles and doesn’t have that dynamism any more. When was the last time he made a decent bust?

I know he’s been injured a bit lately but that’s part of the problem, he’s routinely injured. Going on 33, I think it’s time for him to look for a big payout and gentler pastures.

Word is that he’s a marquee signing for the Melbourne Rebels and they’re just waiting for the ARU to approve his top-up, albeit at an alleged lesser rate than before.

That’s all well and good as a leader, role model and mentor but from a form perspective unless there’s a significant improvement I can’t actually see him playing international rugby again.

Not that there’s a whole list of candidates, apart from Diggers, breaking down the door to grab hold of that Wallaby outside centre position.

I also can’t see him lasting a full season of Super 14 either. I personally think it’s a bridge too far. When was the last time he went a full season without injury? Exactly.

He made his debut for the Brumbies 12 years ago against the Waratahs. Yep, 12 long years ago. He’s scored more than 1000 points in the Super 14 and has 80 test caps to his name, many as captain.

Morty has provided excellent service to Australian rugby and is one of the most respected players currently in the game.

It wasn’t that long ago that, along with Brian O’Driscoll, he was regarded as the world’s premier centre.

Being the Force equivalent of Nathan Sharpe or Brendan Cannon is not a bad idea for a new franchise, except that these guys were competitive when they were signed and in Sharpe’s case still is.

If you’re looking for a Carlos Spencer type who can do this and a bit of coaching as well, yeah OK, but you’ve got to accept the reality as well.

And that is he’s past his best on the field and won’t be able to do what he used to.

I don’t think staying in the Super 14 is the right move for him. Sure, trying to recreate something with Rod McQueen is a little nostalgic but it’s never the same second time round.

Why sully your reputation at this level when you can toddle off for a small fortune and play with some of your mates in Japan?

Japanese rugby is Division 2 quality and if Bernie, George, Greysie, Madness, Radike and the like are cruising at this level then you’ll surely be a star.

I’d imagine that he’d be particularly saleable in that market: ‘Konichiwa. Used world class outside centre, once was a warrior but now only a shadow of his former self. Will perform at a level commensurate with your competition. Good leadership skills and team man. Domo arigato’.

The other thing is that it’s unlikely the Rebels will be competitive in their first season so why would you want to struggle your arse off at 33 on a crusade that’ll take years to achieve a result?

I mean the flighty, lightweight Danny Cipriani? Adam Byrnes and Richard Kingi? Gareth who? Great start so far….. Any sign of current Wallaby top liners?

It’ll be like the Force and very hard to get off Struggle Street for some years to come.

I’d say Stirling would have a maximum of three years or so left in him at the Japanese level. That’s a pretty good pay day in anyone’s terms.

It’s user friendly and if injury prone players like Daniel Heenan can survive in it, it can’t be too physical.

Stirlo, say it ain’t so? I don’t want to see you as that shadow……

  • When I was a rugby player you just wanted to play at the highest level they would let you. Mind you I never got paid!

  • Alex-A

    I hate to say it about a ledgend, but its true. If stirlo makes the wallabies this year it will be counter productive, especially when looking to grow the team towards the world cup. The starting 12 and 13 jersys this year are very undecided, especialy 13. Diggers or AAC would be my first choice 13’s but they are both more established at fullback or wing. Or Australia needs a great outside centre to come through this year, the way Genia did last year.
    Either way they’ve got big shoes to fill.

  • Jon Cooper

    I have been a Mortlock fan since he was playing for Gordon. But He has passed it note only by the measure of his pace or dynamic nature on the field. But from the outside it looks as his desire has burnt out. Digby is the painful obvious choice. Not only by means of the fact that he is the only true outside centre playing. He is also one of the form AUSSIE players. He regular breaks the line he hits hard in defence. Mortlock has served his game well now its time for the game to serve him well and look for a Japanese retirement fun.

  • Patrick

    I thought this last year already, so I agree wholeheartedly.

    I have a lot of cherished Stirlo memories, I wouldn’t begrudge him his pay-day for an instant and I would certainly never doubt his patriotism for doing it.

    That said, the Rebels will need someone who understands, on the field, what it is like to build a new team, and as you note, there is no-one else there for now!

  • Reddy!

    On your second sentence. I don’t think Gregan stayed too long. When he bowed out at the 2007 WC, he was still the best halfback in Aus, and arguably in 2008 as well despite not playing in Australia. Gregan stayed for as long as he did because THERE WAS NOBODY ELSE, and he still enjoyed playing the game and was competitive, despite not quite being up to his high level of previous years.

    Mortlock however is about 3rd or 4th on the outside centre pecking order. And unlike Gregan, is continously injured.

    If Mortlock makes the Wallaby squad it will be for his leadership, and I doubt he will play a game. Ioane and Horne will be the first choice centres, unless someone steps up at fullback to allow AAC to switch.

    • Seb V

      I half agree about gregan. I dont think he stayed too long. He was close to or arguably the best halfback in his later international days. I wouldnt say they’re was no-one else! what about whitaker? However even if gregan wasnt the best, he would of definitly been at least second best plus he was probably the most marketable player in australian rugby. He wasnt at the peak of his game but he was still at international standards and still a very good player. If he was only second best, then what got him over the edge on his other halfbacks was his marketabilty and leadership, which is understandable. More crowds to the games the better. Which is what rugby is in need of now.

    • Ben

      Gregan was no where near the best half back when he bowed at at 2007 WC. He was a huge part of the reason we lost in Marseille..i think burgess harbour bridge pass and running sideways are directly inherited from gregan. Ask any Kiwi and Yarpie and they will tell you Gregan was done in 2005-6.

      Anyway couldnt agree more on mortlock…time to collect some yen and move along, dont do a campese and deteriorate in front of our eyes.

      • Lindommer

        Gregan’s form was appalling after 2003, there was the odd decent game but they were few and far between. What the smart little bastard essentially did was slow the game down to his geriatric pace and make defending against the Wallabies a cinch. During this time George played the blindside to death to cut down the metres he had to run, opposing coaches picked up on this and lined up their defenders accordingly. But the most damning practice during the last few years of his reign was his referee management: refs had become heartily sick of his manipulations and either ignored him or caned Australia in retaliation.

  • ScrumJunkie

    Gregan would still be the second best halfback in Oz if he was still here… Burgess can’t pass, that is why he is such a good running halfback, it’s his only option. AAC should move back to wing or into outside centre and leave the fullback postion to a natural fullback like Hux. He is a true champion, to be so solid under the high ball, have impeccable timing and decision making after not playing a game at that level for two years (and only two warm up games at a much lower level) is amazing! As for Mortlock, could not agree more with a great article!

    • I don’t want to knock Hux down because his comeback was nothing short of miraculous. With that said Hux was never an international quality fullback, at provincial level he was always being shifted between 10, 12 and 15 because he could never convincingly hold down a spot. As for a 13 for next year I would be going for AAC at 13 with Diggers on the wing and Hynes at 15. I’ve said it a few times but diggers lacks the ball playing ability of a 13 to set up his outside runners. Besides you lose nothing putting him on the wing and he can get involved more.

      • Seb V

        I disagree about Hux, I think he can make it with the big boys at international level. He’s got to have one of the best boots in rugby! Sure when comparing him to the likes of Latham or Burke he’s not at that level. But he’s good enough to get the job done! Id have him at fullback and AAC at 13 any day.

  • Ozrugbynut

    Yeowch – Truth hurts. Commendations to Lance for the article no Aussie press would write, but I’ve been thinking on these lines for some time.

    I’ll preface this comment by saying that Stirlo is and has been my favourite player for years.

    Only point I’d add, would be that I think Stirlo could possibly be in the liabilities column for the Rebels next year. With all the pressure on the Rebels to break into the Vic sporting market and provide good financial and other returns early, results will be critical. They need good players who can get these. The melbourne sporting public won’t switch on to rugby if the Rebels are cellar dwellars (and unlike the force they don’t have a ready audience of Saffaz and Poms to draw support from).

    What the rebels don’t want is a marquee player, who will appear in all the ads and promos, who plays 50% of games, and plays at 50% when he does play.

    Plus, no doubt the Rebels will be paying a good premium to get him. Would that (limited) cash be better thrown at someone without the big name but with better value for money? Do the big rugby names raise any eyebrows down there? Can any Victorians shine some light on this?

    I wonder whether more focus should be on trying to get some home-grown Vic rugby talent into the side. Perhaps more interest will be generated for a sports-mad city in seeing how Victorians go taking it to the other states..

  • Ben

    Is it just me or does Pat McCabe look like a center…..i think he is not seeing enough ball on the wing…runs really straight and hard…his pass to valentine was a beauty.

    • Seb V

      Would be pretty solid at fullback too. Not sure if he’s a good kicker or not tho.

  • Fan

    Who is Madness?

    • Lance Free

      Hugh McMeniman

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Roscoe Tims (aka @LanceFree): A nasty, opinionated little man whose views are indeed narrow with a capital 'N'. Favourite Sport: mungo bashing. Does he ever have anything positive to say?

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