Interview: Brendan McKibbin, rugby player
A Wallaby cap is the aim for Scots-born No.9 Brendan McKibbin, he tells Iain Morrison
The England side that will face Scotland next weekend at Twickenham boasts a Kiwi in Shontayne Hape who has taken the place of another New Zealander, Rikki Flutey, who arguably inherited the shirt from a South African, Mike Catt. It is not unusual in the professional age as overseas players hoist any old flag of convenience and sail into battle. Ireland's Tom Court was born and raised in Australia and Scotland will select one or two of his fellow countrymen next Sunday afternoon at Twickenham.
The numbers that play the game in Scotland are still small, even though the SRU will point out that they are headed in the right direction, so it is little wonder that this country has been a net-importer of rugby talent. Even the great Ian Smith, whose record of 28 Championship tries is under threat from Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Williams, was born in Melbourne and brought up in New Zealand. So it is a nice change of events to see Scotland exporting some talent in the form of a player who hopes to turn out at scrum-half for the Wallabies in the forthcoming World Cup.
Brendan McKibbin was born in Irvine and spent his early life in Kilmarnock before his parents upped sticks and moved the family to Brisbane when he was aged just three. He can't recall what he thought of the move at the time, partly because he wasn't consulted, but mostly because he can't remember anything whatsoever about Scotland. The only thing McKibbin does recall is that the family went in search of a warmer climate.
It was a good reason to move, although his dad's business probably wouldn't have been six feet under water in the recent floods had the family remained in Kilmarnock. At least the move has meant that McKibbin is now dreaming of turning out for Australia.
But the 25-year-old is currently playing second fiddle to Luke Burgess at the New South Wales Waratahs, so are his aspirations of pulling on the Wallaby shirt come September realistic?
"I'd like to think so," says McKibbin from his home in Sydney. "I had a meeting with (Australia coach] Robbie (Deans] not too long ago and he said that no one was guaranteed their position, it's an open field. The guy who performs in Super Rugby will get picked."
So far McKibbin has had to content himself with a couple of appearances off the bench for the Waratahs so, if he is serious about catching the Wallabies coach's eye, he must first displace Burgess from the starting spot, which won't be easy.
"I'm definitely not there to sit on the bench," he responds. "I'm there to push Burgess all the way."
McKibbin is a long way from wherever he chooses to call home. His extended family remain in Kilmarnock, where one cousin plays social rugby. His mum, dad and sister live in Brisbane but he made the move south to join the Waratahs Academy from the Queensland Reds' equivalent last season. The move paid off with McKibbin earning a senior Super 15 contract with the Sydney outfit this year.
The little scrum-half has a weapon to help him achieve his stated aim of starting for the Waratahs, although it's hardly a secret. While playing club rugby in Queensland, McKibbin racked up a record 267 points in the course of just one season and that total doesn't include the play-offs. He's a handy man with the boot if that makes sense.
His good form in front of goal continued last season in Sydney. While playing for Dan Parks' old club Eastern Suburbs, the youngster earned the Ken Catchpole Medal for the most outstanding player in Sydney club rugby and he did so by a healthy margin. Furthermore, McKibbin was the second-highest points scorer in the league.
Each week the Waratahs coaches stage a kicking contest with the likes of Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale involved. McKibbin has yet to lose. His reliability with the boot means that, when he is on the field, he takes the kicks at goal for the Waratahs, so his hopes of promotion may be better grounded that many believe.
The Aussies will take three scrum-halves to the World Cup and, while Will Genia is a shoo-in for one spot, the other two places are pretty much up for grabs. With goal kicking a big issue for Australia (remember Matt Giteau's fluffed last-minute effort at Murrayfield two years ago), it's understandable that this Scottish-born points machine is aiming for a Wallaby shirt, although he may not have entirely given up on the blue jersey of his birthplace.
"I probably have to talk to my management about that [Scotland] because I'm pretty sure that they are aware of me over here but whether they can do that [pick me] logistically I don't know. Would Scotland be looking at me as a potential World Cup squad member if I'm playing Super Rugby? I'm not entirely sure?"
Thanks to a UK passport he had already spent a few months with Saracens under Eddie Jones back in 2008, although all it led to at the time was a place on the bench against the Scarlets in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. More recently Glasgow tried to sign him as cover for Chris Cusiter through November/December before the Super Rugby season kicked off but the Waratahs management warned McKibbin off moving north, even for a couple of months. They advised the debutant that he would be better served by concentrating on his Super Rugby pre-season rather than jetting off around the globe.
"They've put together a pretty good side here. Playing and training with the best is certainly in my best interests," says McKibbin. "I guess Europe is in the plan somewhere but short-term I need to concentrate on the Waratahs and trying to make the World Cup squad."
It's Sod's Law of course but, with Scotland's embarrassment of riches at No.9, what a pity the Aussie doesn't play one position wider.
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