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Made of the Wright stuff

The Wallabies faced off against England in the second Test at Suncorp Stadium.

Tom Wright’s Wikipedia page is skinny and bad. The link to his Manly Sea Eagles player profile takes you to “404” and “Oops”. Same thing happens on his ACT Brumbies profile link except there it says “Sorry”.

Another link takes you to the Tom Wright who played rugby league for Toowoomba in 1928. 

Read the Official Wallabies v England Third Test Program here!

The page adds that Wright played five NRL games (it’s four) for Manly Sea Eagles and five Test matches (it’s 10) for the Wallabies. 

What “ol’ Wiki” does get right, however, is that 25-year-old Wright’s signing by ACT Brumbies at the end of 2018 was “a coup for rugby union”, which referenced a  headline by Nine Entertainment Co. (not the publisher of this masthead).

We’ll get to Wright’s most recent Test match, last Saturday night against England in Brisbane, in due course.

For now it’s to the eastern suburbs of Sydney town in the mid-2000s when young Tom was playing league for Clovelly Crocodiles one day, Rugby for Clovelly Eagles the next, as footy-mad young’ns are wont to do.

“Basically the same team would roll out Saturday and Sunday, we just put on different jerseys,” Wright says. “It was a big group of mates just doing the same thing. Great fun.”

In 2009 Wright was off to famous rugby nursery

St Joseph’s College – “Joeys” – in Hunters Hill. For all bar the first term, Wright lived on site as a boarder from Year 7 through Year 12. He says it was the making of him.

“I was very fortunate to go there. Pretty much learned to be a man there, I suppose. It prepared you for the first few years out of school in terms of self-reliance, independence. You learned how to handle yourself and handle your time,” Wright says.

He also learned, of course, Rugby, where he was a star player, mainly at flyhalf. Good enough to attract attention from one of rugby league’s greatest, Bob ‘Bozo’ Fulton.

“Bob and his son Scott were heavily involved in getting me to Manly,” Wright says. “It was obviously a tough decision at the time. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t change the decision looking back on it.”

The pitch? Plenty of flattery, according to Wright. 

“A lot of the time they were just reinforcing how good you are!” Wright smiles. “They were there to plant a seed, I suppose. But it was also around the fact that there was an opportunity at the club. Kieran Foran had gone to Parramatta at the time and there was a chance to play five-eighth.

“But what I jumped at the most was probably the opportunity to rub shoulders straightaway with the NRL squad in pre-season. Two or three weeks earlier I’d been watching these guys on TV. It was a pretty awesome opportunity straight out of school.”

Manly were happy, too. Sea Eagles CEO Joe Kelly described Wright as “the most exciting schoolboy Rugby prospect in Australia.”

Wright would play four NRL games (his first in Indigenous Round when his jumper was presented by Cliff Lyons) for Trent Barrett’s Manly side that finished just one game from its first wooden spoon.

Dan McKellar at the Brumbies offered another opportunity: come down to Canberra, see how you go. There’s a Rugby World Cup in 2023. You’ll be cherry ripe for it.

Two years after that first chat Wright scored on debut for the Wallabies in their 24-22 win over New Zealand All Blacks in Brisbane.

He’s now played 10 Test matches. He kept Sulivasi Vunivalu out of the match-day XXIII. You could say he is on a bit of a roll.

The Wallabies were on one, too, in the second half of the second Test match against England after clawing their way back from 19-0 down to get within five points with 18 minutes to play. That’s when Wright took a pass from Noah Lolesio in their 22 - and took off. 

He hot-footed out of trouble, bolted into space, beat three white jumpers, kicked ahead, watched Tommy Freeman come across in cover before dragging the left winger into touch by the scruff of the neck.

It was a huge and inspirational play. Field position and possession. And 47,000 fans were up as one.

Alas a pair of dud lineouts was slow poison for the Wallabies as England’s hard-boned physicality and sharp-shooter Owen Farrell killed off the Australian fightback.

Ask Wright if that’s how it felt on the field, that momentum was stymied, and he nods. “That’s pretty much how I remember it. We did very well to get back into it but there were moments in the first half where as a team we weren’t great. And it was probably one of those games where things didn’t go our way, unfortunately.”

While injuries and yellow cards played their part, Wright says England were better from the get-go. He says it was no surprise.

“We were under no illusion that they were going to come out extremely physical and play quite a strong, call it ‘territory’ game - and then pick us off three points at a time on the back of their pressure and our ill-discipline. Joe Bloggs on the sideline could tell you that. 

“England are notoriously very physical, strong, big bodies, and happy to go up in threes when the opportunity arises,” Wright says.

What do to do about it? Do it to them before they do it to you, reckons Wright.

“It’s about taking that opportunity away from them. You do that by being more disciplined and staying tight with what you want to do. It’s being able to take a leaf out of their book and potentially kick in play a bit more for territory so that we have the opportunity to park ourselves in their half and go up steadily,” Wright explains.

Wright says the Wallabies are in a good frame of mind heading into the decisive third Test.

While injuries have forced team-mates out, the Ella-Mobbs Cup is incentive enough for the greater squad to ride together as one.

“Everyone played their part in what potentially could’ve been a great night for us towards the end of the [second Test]. We definitely gave ourselves a chance; from about minute 50 onwards we were definitely in the fight. 

“But it doesn’t take much to get beaten in international Rugby. England probably said the same thing about the week before.”

And so to the famous Sydney Cricket Ground where Wright’s family and friends in the east will be in good numbers.

He says the squad is buzzing. “Everyone is really excited. We get to play on a pretty iconic ground and not just in Australia. I think even the Poms will pretty excited to play at the SCG. It’s going to be awesome.”

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