Coming off the bench to face the Hurricanes back in 2008, a wide-eyed teenager named Matt Toomua had been earmarked early to make a big impression at Super Rugby level.
He’d been one of the highlights at the national schoolboys carnival just 12 months before, steering his side to wins over the QLD 1 and NSW 1 sides to be crowned Australian champions, from Queensland 2.
Coincidently, it will be against the Hurricanes when Toomua will bring up his first major career milestone – 50 caps – tonight at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Just the second player to be handed a fulltime contract with the University of Canberra Brumbies straight out of school, Toomua soon lived up to the hype, featuring in another three games during the 2009 season, nine in 2009 and by the end of 2010 he had amassed 20 caps at just 20 years of age.
But for the next two seasons, Toomua’s luck seemed to dry up.
Club legend Matt Giteau had returned from Perth in 2010 leaving a starting spot just out of reach, while the next three seasons were hampered by frustrating injuries which prevented Toomua from building any momentum or confidence.
But a fresh start in 2013, reinvigorated and fresh from a knee reconstruction in 2012, Toomua took the Super Rugby tournament and the UC Brumbies number 10 jersey by storm and has not looked back.
Since then Toomua has claimed 10 caps for the Wallabies, scoring cracking tries against the All Blacks and England on two of world rugby’s biggest stages.
He has developed into one of the club’s most respected backs, ably supplying players like Christian Lealiifano, Pat McCabe, Tevita Kuridrani, Andrew Smith, Jesse Mogg, Joe Tomane, Clyde Rathbone and Henry Speight with enough ball to ensure they are all firmly within Wallabies reckoning.
“It hasn’t always been an easy road to get to 50 caps, there have certainly been some challenges and difficult times along the way. But those tough times probably make me appreciate being able to play professionally more,” Toomua said.
“Since the start of that 2012 season, we’ve seen plenty of changes around the club and had a number of guys stick their hands up and make the most of their opportunities.
“It was really disappointing to miss the majority of 2012. But I feel like I’ve been able to make some ground back during the last 12 months.
“I’m still only 24 and I’ve got plenty of personal goals I’d like to achieve, but first and foremost I’m looking to make the most of this Brumbies team to achieve our potential.”
Like Toomua, Lealiifano has been able to take his opportunities and become a key link in the Wallabies backline after struggling through a series of injuries over the last five years.
While waiting for his ankle to return to full strength to make his first appearance of the 2014 Super Rugby season, Lealiifano said Toomua's stay-ability had been impressive for a young player who has been constantly niggled by injuries.
“Pup has had plenty of set-backs and for some players, that would be enough to let them drop their head,” Lealiifano said.
“To Matt’s credit he has always kept a positive attitude and worked hard for the Brumbies regardless of what his own personal standing with the team may have been.
“With 10 Wallabies and now 50 for the Brumbies all coming up over the last six months, I think it’s a fair indication of what Matt has always been capable of given time and consistency on the field.
“I’m really happy for Matt to have clocked up 50 caps against the Hurricanes, I’m looking forward to seeing him clock up another 50 over the next four or five years.”
The UC Brumbies would like to congratulate Matt Toomua on reaching 50 caps against the Hurricanes and look forward to him reaching more milestones with the club in the near future.