Matt Finish as Faessler takes Wallabies opportunity

Fri, Jul 5, 2024, 12:07 AM
by Wallabies Match Day Program - Matt Cleary

Wallabies hooker Matt Faessler stands by the adage that good things can happen to those that are patient

As they stand on hills and tilt back tinnies in the time-honoured “Way of The Old Boy”, a lament heard across the land, and nodded vigorously along to, is that young players receive too much, too soon. That they’re straight out of school, straight into professional rugby. Too much training in ‘Academies’, not enough butting heads with men.

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And the further you descend through playing numbers (some would argue while ascending the food chain), the louder the lamentation. By the time you’re up to the old boys of the engine room and front-row, Australian rugby’s woes can be summarised with the opinion of one former first-class front-rower of my acquaintance.

“Too much, too soon for private schoolboys turns them into pillows,” he reckons. “Maybe not ‘pillows’. They’re still strong, and big. Bigger and stronger than we were.

“But a 19 or 20-year-old front-rower, they should spend four, five years playing against men in club footy. When state jumpers come too early, not to mention money, it’s like they’ve achieved their goal. And the winning of bloody games can be almost secondary.”

Matt Faessler, 25, is one to warm the cockles of an old boy’s heart.

For, while, yes, the hooker did come from GPS breeding ground Toowoomba Grammar, and he did play junior representative rugby right up to Under 20s – in the same class of 2018 as Fraser McReight, Len Ikitau and Jordan Petaia – the 25-year-old has taken a road less travelled. 

When he came out of ‘the system’, the system didn’t want him.

“I came out of Under 20s and wasn’t picked up by anybody,” Faessler says. “I don’t know why. So I went and played club rugby.”

Brisbane club Brothers was a natural fit. His brother played there, his mates from school. He knew coaches from schoolboys. You wonder, though, was he not really for provincial footy?

Faessler says he has "no idea. But playing against men for those years definitely helped.”

After three seasons and 50-odd games, Faessler thought there may not be an opportunity with Queensland, and headed south for the winter to play for Randwick. Three games into season 2021, he was back up the road. 

“I was signed to an injury cover deal. So I rushed back to Brisbane. Two weeks after that I played for Queensland.”

He played the season. He was picked for Australia ‘A’. A year later he was packing down against the All Blacks in Dunedin, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, James ‘Vincent’ Bermingham (and you should Google him) who was a front-rower and part of the first Wallabies team to win the Bledisloe Cup in 1934.

Soon enough, our man was on the plane for France. It’s what he’d always wanted.

“I’ve wanted to be a Wallaby since I was seven years old. I remember the 2007 Rugby World Cup, we got knocked out by the Poms in the quarters. From that day on, I pretty clearly said to my parents that I wanted to do that.”

And so, here we are, in this period of post-World Cup regeneration, in this brave new world of Australian rugby under coach Joe Schmidt, in this new dawn of … all that. You get the drill. So does Faessler who will be front and centre in game one against Wales, the team that so demolished the Wallabies at Stade de France in August of 2023.

He says they don’t have “dossiers” on Welsh players. But they have an idea what’s coming.

“Good set piece team. Quality kicking strategy. They’re quite ‘whole’, a well-balanced team. And there’s youth coming through there. We’re probably pretty well off there, too,” Faessler says.

“I think it’ll be northern hemisphere footy versus southern hemisphere footy - two opposing styles. The weather may play a part. If it’s rainy, dewy, they’ll be right at home.

“For us in that engine room it’s about nailing core roles and providing good platform at set piece. In my position, you’re not running for full-field tries. You’re nailing a lot of little things and trying to nail your core role for the team.”

One day, of course, Faessler will be an old boy himself. He’s even getting in practice whenever he can.

“I love it down at Brothers. I live a couple hundred metres from the ground. There’s a coffee shop that’s like our local," Faessler says. 

"It’s the same for all the Brisbane Wallabies. Harry Wilson, Fraser [McReight], Taniela [Tupou]. Whenever we’ve got a Saturday afternoon free we’ll get down and have a few cans on the hill.

“It’s really good.”

Faessler has perhaps a decade until he's an Old Boy. Until then, there are Test matches to be won for Australia. Faessler says he’ll never take for granted pulling on the Wallabies jumper.

“It’s super special and there’ll come a day when you won’t get that opportunity again," Faessler says. "So you can’t take it for granted. 

"You’ve got to smell the roses. And play as hard as you can.”

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