“It’s been documented that a honey badger has killed a male lion, one-on-one, by ripping the canastas off the big fella,” says animal enthusiast and wildly talented Australian Wallabies flyer Nick Cummins, who since bursting onto the international scene last year has become known affectionately, and accurately if you’re willing to buy into the metaphor, the ‘Honey Badger’.
By canastas, Cummins means balls, nuts or testicles, if David Attenborough is more your speed, and it’s an ominous warning to the England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales super squad playing under the Lions banner and taking on the Wallabies in the first of three Tests on June 22.
The ‘Honey Badger’ moniker was coined by Cummins after seeing the mustelid in action on the Discovery Channel. Before speaking to the rampaging 25-year-old Western Force winger at the Wallabies’ camp in Sydney, TNT took to YouTube to see whether the fuss is justified. It is.
We see honey badgers taking on king cobras, diving head-first into bee hives and facing off with four lion cubs, and surviving. Two adult lionesses stay away from the action – “they know it’ll fight back and isn’t worth the injuries they’ll cop.”
“The last house I was in I spent a bit of time watching the Discovery Channel – I’m into that sort of gear – and a couple of docos came up about this honey badger,” Cummins recalls, with his true blue Aussie twang. “I was astonished at how amazing it is. I went to training and had to tell the boys about it. They didn’t believe me at first but soon they were into it, watching videos on their phones.”
From that, Cummins, renowned for his intensity, physicality and disregard for his own well-being on the field, found a new source of inspiration: “I thought it’s not a bad way to see life. [The honey badger] goes 40km a day, and when cornered he will launch in. He’s fearless. Mate, he’s just a tough little rooster. That’s something to aspire to.”
Since Cummins’ debut for Australia in Argentina last year and his role in the 18-all draw with the All Blacks that halted their record winning streak at 16 games, he’s become a cult figure.
A straight-talking character off the field who reckons “people don’t want to listen to a robot”, he’s been a hit on it as well, playing four matches in the Autumn Tests.
He was Australia’s only try-scorer in tight-fought wins against England and Italy and if he can recover fully from a knee complaint, he’ll be a good shot at facing the Lions in a fortnight. He says just as a Lions jersey is the pinnacle of rugby for Great Britain players, pulling on gold against them is the height for him.
“I’ve asked a few of the boys and they’ve said the World Cup doesn’t have the same hype as the Lions series,” he says. “It’s massive, once in a lifetime. I’d be 37 or something for the next one and would need four facelifts and a bum tuck to be a shot. I’m excited at the chance.”
It’s been an impressive arrival for Cummins, whose career in Aussie senior team colours started in Sevens. He was the top try-scorer for Oz in the 2007 IRB World Series and won silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Now he’s at the top.
“Coming from Beaudesert, you know where you came from,” he says of his Queensland country town upbringing which gives him no choice but to stay grounded.
“I enjoyed growing up out there doing what city kids can’t. You go out in the bush and see a kangaroo and find yourself running with it for a while until it decides to put the after burners on and you never see them again.”
The same won’t happen when Cummins takes on the man mountain outside backs the Lions have planned for him, but he’s taking it all in his stride.
“I wasn’t expecting what’s happened so quickly,” he says. “Even the Honey Badger thing’s gone off, which has surprised me but, mate, it’s good for a laugh. I’m just going with the flow, not trying to gee anything up. I’m just living in the now, creating memories so that when I’m an old codger on the verandah I can tell my grandkids, ‘Back in my day…’.”
One thing a honey badger (or a kangaroo, or the chooks it was his job as a kid to look after) didn’t teach him was this sense of perspective – that can go to his family, whose 2012 was impressive not just for his exploits.
His father Mark was named Queensland Father of the Year (he has eight children, two with cystic fibrosis, and has been single for five years), and his auntie Margie, Mark’s sister, won The Biggest Loser.
“I had a couple relies say it was the year of the Cummins,” he says. “I had a bit of a chuckle at that, but dad deserved it. He does a lot of good work. He’s had some battles and tough times to face but he’s a tough rooster and he faces ‘em.
“Margie, she lost 80 bloody kilos – that’s a human!” he marvels. “I think the thing that runs in their veins is they’re headstrong and disciplined when they need to be.”For a bloke who knows how to channel inspiration when he sees it – see badgers – Nick takes plenty from them.
“I see them see the obstacle in front,” he says. “It may look hopeless, but it shows that, like the honey badger, if you’re facing up to a lion, the odds may not be in your favour, but if you have a good crack, and back yourself, things happen. Margie has determination. Dad, every day, he has that will power. For me, I’ve just gotta play a game of rugby.”
Going for a grand slam: Wallabies add Wales test
Even before their first Test against the British and Irish Lions, the Australian Wallabies have their eye on an autumn Grand Slam in Europe.
The Wallabies camp has announced an extra game against Wales has been added to the tour, meaning they’ll play all sides which make up the Lions touring party and try to emulate the Andrew Slack-led side which beat England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 1984.
Six Nations champions Wales will host the Aussies in Cardiff on November 30 in what will be the last game of a tour kicking off at Twickenham on November 2 followed by Tests against Italy, Ireland and Scotland.
“The Grand Slam is a big thing and something the players will look forward to and be excited about,” Wallabies skipper James Horwill said. “It will be a great way to finish what is going to be one of the biggest years in the history of the game in Australia.”