Matt Toomua Exclusive: "He’s a grumpy old bugger because he wants to succeed, but I think that’s Leicester’s style"

Toomua, who played in the 2015 and 2019 World Cup for the Wallabies, is currently over in Japan

"He’s a grumpy old bugger at times because he just wants to succeed, but I think that’s Leicester’s style.”

Matt Toomua is just about the best person to judge the suitability of Dan McKellar, who last week was announced as the next head coach of Leicester Tigers from the 2023-24 season.

The Australian playmaker played for the reigning Gallagher Premiership champions from 2016-2019, as well as working with McKellar at the Brumbies, and knowing the coach for almost a decade.

It’s fair to say that he sees the two parties as a perfect match: “When I heard rumours about him (McKellar) going there, I thought he would be an exceptional fit for Leicester. The style of play too, he's defence and set-piece orientated, tenants of Leicester's style of play.”

After an extensive search for Steve Borthwick's permanent replacement, Leicester have gone with McKellar despite links with the likes of Rassie Erasmus and Michael Cheika. Up against names of that magnitude, it would be hard to stand out, but according to Toomua, McKellar's greatest strength will shine through to his new employers; clarity.

“He worked under Jake White, and Jake is one of those that you could say a lot of things about in terms of his style, but as a player, you knew exactly what he expected of you, and I get the same thing with Dan. He is very clear on how he wants to play the game.

"He just is the Leicester style in a way. They're never the happiest blokes in Leicester but they're pretty successful, so I think it kind of works, I think he'll be really good. His strengths are set piece and defence. I think he’ll create a culture at the club.”

The 33-year-old sees the move as a win for all parties, not just for head coach and club, but for Rugby Australia as well despite new boss Eddie Jones losing one of his assistants.

“I probably look at it optimistically that Dan will be back, and I would be very surprised if he didn't coach the Wallabies at one stage having gone away and been head coach at one of the biggest clubs in Europe," adds, Toomua, who last appeared for Australia in August 2021 against New Zealand.

"For most coaches (in the southern hemisphere) it's almost a prerequisite that you need to do a stint up north to become a Test coach because the game up there is far more similar to Test match standard than it is down here.

"I think it'll be a huge asset for us. I'm pretty excited at the fact that he'll be able to go there and when we do get him back, he's going to be even better.”

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Leicester, as both a city and a team, clearly holds a place in Toomua’s heart, despite his arrival coming during poor seasons for the club: “I loved it, it was tough results-wise and that's probably the thing that sticks out being the competitive person that I am, but I loved it and really enjoyed getting amongst the English culture and the rugby culture over there.

“In my last season, we played in what turned out to be a relegation game with Newcastle and despite playing in many Test matches and whatnot, that was the most nervous and pressure I've felt in the game for sure. Different gravy altogether.”

After representing the Wallabies in the 2015 and 2019 World Cup, Toomua is currently plying his trade in Japan with Mitsubishi DynaBoars.

Following promotion last season, they are currently sitting seventh in the Japanese League One. He hasn’t featured since the second round owing to a calf injury however in his absence, his side has fought to midtable, and are on track to avoid relegation, a feat he called ‘huge’.

Coincidentally, a new teammate at the DynaBoars is Jamie Shillcock, who has signed for Leicester for next season after the administration of Worcester Warriors and stints at Bath and in Japan.