On the surface rugby is a game for everyone. It’s the beauty (if you can call it that) of the sport.
A lean, 70-kilogram winger with blistering speed can share the field with a much larger 120-kilogram prop forward.
Each player on the field has a different body shape, his strengths and weaknesses relevant to his position – with all team members working towards a common goal.
Professionally, players can forge out careers that last over 15 years, experience life in foreign countries and take advantage of the many networking and career opportunities available to them to set themselves up post rugby.
George Smith is testament to this, still playing at a competitive level in Japan in this his 14th year of professional rugby.
The average age of a player entering into professional rugby has dropped over the years thanks to the success of Super Rugby academies and the ARU talent identification program.
This has created a pathway from schools, through provincial rugby and eventually international level for those who possess the talent.
However, you don’t have to be a schoolboy prodigy like Kurtley Beale to make it in the game.
Players such as Luke Burgess, who played second XV at St Joseph’s College, and Rebels second rower Caderyn Neville who only took up rugby a few years ago after showing extreme promise as a rower, prove that the stereotypical pathway to professional rugby is not set in stone.
There is a place for the ‘late bloomer’ in a Super Rugby squad. Props don’t hit the peak of their powers until well into their 20s and the need for experience to guide the youth is a balance many teams adopt throughout a long and challenging season.
However, getting into this position initially is an extremely hard task. Countless young boys dream of being a professional rugby player, but few get the chance to live it out.
Whether through talent, attitude or even luck, the career path of an individual can be changed in an instance.
Players are now posting video highlights of themselves on Youtube, in the hope that Super Rugby franchises are browsing the web, and offering them an opportunity.
There is so much young talent running around club grounds on weekends. But more often than not, unfortunately that’s where they stay.
Granted there is not room for everyone in a professional set up, but in recent years it’s the lack of an extra competition that would provide individuals the incentive to try and turn pro.
In Sydney, where AFL, league, football and rugby compete to be the number one code, it’s important that the ARU are providing the necessary outlets for these individuals to be given the opportunity to take the next step.
It’s why the introduction of the new National Rugby Championship, due in August 2014, is a massive step forward for rugby union in Australia.
Not only will it bridge the gap between club and Super Rugby, but it will widen the broadcasting audience and in turn strengthen Australian rugby just like the ITM and Currie Cups have done for New Zealand and South Africa.
More importantly, it gives those individuals, those talented club rugby players that I speak of, an opportunity to be noticed on a bigger stage.
I played with and against a number of players in the Shute Shield who could have taken the step up to Super Rugby, but because there were no building blocks in place in the form of a second tier competition, financially it wasn’t beneficial nor achievable.
Now, in August this year, rather than returning to their 9 to 5 desk job, players will hopefully spend more time on their rugby and push for selection into one of the nine teams from around the country.
Well done to Bill Pulver and his team. Let’s hope it lasts longer than the ARC.