Rugby World Cup
Hamstring, 'fat club', World Cup final: Drew Mitchell seen it all in roller-coaster four years
Sam Bruce
October 31, 2015

From a torn hamstring to 'fat club' and a Rugby World Cup final: Drew Mitchell has just about seen and done it all in the past four years, and the Wallabies winger now stands on the cusp of one of the great redemption stories as he seeks to cap his wonderful career by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup at Twickenham on Saturday.

If you're looking for a rollercoaster ride, there are no better stories than Mitchell's.

Four years ago in New Zealand, the winger tore his hamstring while flying down the touchline against Russia during the pool stage. It had been quite an effort just to get there in the first place, with Mitchell having suffered a devastating ankle injury during Super Rugby earlier that year.

Two years later he packed his bags and headed to Toulon to join good mate Matt Giteau, the duo helping to fire the French giants to Heineken Cup and Top 14 glory.

Another two years later, they were both suddenly offered a World Cup lifeline as the Australian Rugby Union relaxed its eligibility protocols and Wallabies coach Michael Cheika welcomed them back into the Test fold.

Not that Mitchell got off to the brightest of starts.

Drew Mitchell © MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

"Yeah I mean I think when I first came back you know I had a bit of work to do and that was identified by Cheik and the coaching staff," Mitchell said of his lack of conditioning ahead of the Rugby Championship.

"Myself and one of the other boys were singled out for extra duties over there in Notre Dame, so I don't have the fondest of memories of that place; it was good to get out of there."

Having come through the brutal sessions in steamy South Bend, Mitchell was given a crack in Australia's second pool match against Uruguay and picked up two five-pointers to move a step closer to Jonah Lomu's record of 15 World Cup tries. But it wasn't until Rob Horne went down with injury against England that Mitchell's World Cup redemption story really gathered legs: he has since started against Wales, Scotland and Argentina, with his run down the left-hand touchline against the Pumas evoking memories of his European Champions Cup heroics for Toulon.

Drew Mitchell made the match-clinching break in the Rugby World Cup semifinal against Argentina © Michael Steele/Getty Images

"In all seriousness, coming over here and then playing a number of games back to back and being able to contribute later in the games has been pleasing," Mitchell said. "But it's hard to say whether you're at your best or close to your best. For me I just want to keep to improving so hopefully my best is still to come and you know hopefully I can play well [on Saturday] night."

Waiting for Mitchell on the opposite side of halfway will be one of the nominees for World Rugby Breakout Player of the Year, Nehe Milner-Skudder. The All Blacks rookie has enjoyed a season to remember after announcing himself for the Hurricanes during their run to the Super Rugby final, and his footwork would appear to be the stuff of nightmares for opposition players; but after 69 Tests, the night-before nerves are merely an afterthought for Mitchell.

"No I'm not too much of a routine type," Mitchell said. "I tend not to try and focus on it too much; I don't have the capacity to focus for too long so I try and keep things pretty simple tonight.

"If I feel like eating something, I'll eat it; if my feel like sleeping early or late, I'll do that. And then pretty much until Cheik says 'right, bring it in' that's when it will hit me and I might have to duck off and excuse myself for a little bit. But, yeah, I don't sort of stick to any routine or anything."

Routine or not, Mitchell will be ready to run, certain that he can give Milner-Skudder something to ponder and hopeful that he can equal or surpass the try-scoring feats of Habana and Lomu.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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