When England played Australia last November, Matt Giteau was in a corporate box at Twickenham making liberal use of the free bar.
His international career had been over for more than three years and there was no hope of resurrecting it. He had resigned himself to the fact, considering three European Cups with Toulon as suitable recompense. But on Saturday he will line up in the Wallaby midfield as they take on England in a game the hosts dare not lose.
Australia changed their rules on overseas-based players to accommodate him, in stark contrast to England’s stance on Steffon Armitage.
The ruling that Wallaby players with over 60 international caps and seven years’ service with the national side are suddenly eligible again is nicknamed “The Giteau Clause”, and the primary beneficiary – along with Toulon team-mate Drew Mitchell – is well aware this unexpected second chance gives him the opportunity to wreak havoc at Twickenham in a rather different manner to November.
“I was over having a few beers with Drew,” he said of England’s win last autumn. “It had been maybe my third year not playing international rugby so it was normal for me, just like going to any football game and watching it as a supporter. That’s where my mindset was at.
“Did I think I could come back and play for Australia? No, not when I was having a few beers, it never crossed my mind.
“Does it make it more special to get a second chance to play for Australia? Massively.
“I suppose I’m more grateful than I was. When you’re playing consistently I think you take it for granted – it’s a shocking thing to take it for granted, playing for your country.
“And just little things, like getting your kit again. I felt like I was 19 when I first came in again. I certainly take nothing for granted now.”
But does he feel sympathy for Toulon team-mate Armitage as he watches the game from afar?
“He’s made it pretty clear he wants to be in the England team,” says Giteau. “Everyone wants to play for their country. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rugby, cricket, everyone wants to play for their country, and Stef’s no different.” Giteau also has an extra reason to knock England out this weekend: to continue his proud tradition of embarrassing close friend Jonny Wilkinson.
At Wilkinson’s retirement dinner last year Giteau was asked to say a few words after tributes had been paid by the likes of David Beckham, Elton John and Russell Crowe. “Mate, why didn’t you retire two years ago?” he said, to Wilkinson’s embarrassment.
Now Giteau is back in the Wallaby team, he has received the cold shoulder from Wilkinson – but says he will have his revenge after joking the Englishman has given him inside knowledge of how to win a World Cup.
“Jonny won’t answer my calls this week, and I’ve been trying him a lot,” laughs Giteau. “Maybe next week.
“Will I make him feel guilty if we go a long way in the tournament and England didn’t? Oh, I’d make him feel guilty. I’d make him feel very guilty.”Reuse content