Scott Fava had either a dream Super 12 debut or a nightmare one. Depends on how you look at it.
It was in Round 2 of the 2000 season with the 24-year-old rookie coming off the bench for the Queensland Reds, who are facing the Hurricanes in New Plymouth.
A scrum packs down with a Wellington feed. Fava, just inserted into the fray at openside flanker, senses his first intervention well before the moment happens.
“All day the Canes have been running this inside ball to (Jonah) Lomu,” he says.
“Off the scrum the ball goes to ten and he’s either going to do an X with the inside centre or he’s going to hit the inside ball to Lomu through the channel between the flyhalf and the flanker.
“There he is sitting in that spot. He’s coming. Awesome, let’s go. I’m gonna whack him!
“Lo and behold they use that channel and I put a hit on big Jonah. It was one of those dream debuts in terms of the first play you ever get is against a rugby great.”
After this baptism of fire, Fava would go on to be a big part of Super Rugby in Australia during the ensuing decade. From 2000 to 2009, Fava played 87 games combined for the Reds, Brumbies, Force and Waratahs. The fit and pacey back-rower was the first player to represent all four (at the time) Aussie professional franchises.
His opportunity with Queensland came after being spotted by Reds boss John ‘Knuckles’ Connolly winning man-of-the-match honours for NSW Country against Queensland in 1999. A few months on, Kiama-raised Fava played his first game in the maroon jersey against his home state in the Ricoh Cup.
Game time proved to be at a premium for Fava during his two years in the Sunshine State. The Reds had a stacked back row then with David Wilson, Toutai Kefu, Matt Cockbain and Mark Connors all capped Wallabies. Emerging young guns John Roe and David Croft also had to be contended with.
Competition was one thing, but Fava also sensed a change in approach when Connolly departed after the 2000 season.
“Mark McBain came in as the coach in 2001 and I felt that they did a bit of New South Wales cleansing,” he says.
“We had a lot of NSW players with Knuckles, who just chose the best players to fill in the gaps like (Chris) Latham, Fletcher Dyson, (Sam) Cordingley, Spoony (Nathan Spooner) and myself.
“It just seemed like when Mark came in that he wanted to keep it all Queenslanders. Making sure they’re all getting a shot.
“2001 was a very frustrating year, and I didn’t know what was going to happen because I was off contract. Eddie Jones saw a couple of my games for Brothers then signed me for the Brumbies in 2002.”
Fava was able to get on a roll down in the ACT. He played in 46 games in his four seasons there, including 45 straight at one point.
It was a very successful period for the franchise. In 2002, Fava’s first season with the Brumbies, they made it to their third straight grand final, which they lost to the Crusaders in Christchurch. A year later they reached the finals again only to be bounced by eventual champions Auckland in the semis.
Then came the famous 2004 season. Controversy struck in the ACT camp during this campaign when news emerged that a coterie of veteran Brumbies had wrested control of the team away from head coach David Nucifora.
“The senior players were coming up with the game plans, basically,” says Fava.
“Greegs (George Gregan) and (Stephen) Larkham would just say, ‘Right we’re doing this and we’re doing that’. Then you’ve got Giff (David Giffin), Justin Harrison and Owen (Finnegan) saying what we’re doing in the forwards. It was really player generated.
“A lot of it started with angst that came from players being dropped that weren’t happy about it. Notably Patty Howard, Jeremy Paul and Dave Giffin at various stages had been dropped to the bench and that got the cogs moving.”
Fava felt a bit caught in the middle. He respected the senior players, but also had loyalty to his coach who had shown faith in him during his time with the franchise.
“I had a good relationship with Nussy,” he says. “He batted for me a lot with the selection to get me into the team.
“I understand where it (the player revolt) was coming from, but it was conflicting for me because I had the coach in my corner. My thought was – just keep your head down Scotty and keep playing well and that’s all you can do.”
The internal ructions did not slow down the 2004 Brumbies one bit. Paradoxically, it made them an even mightier force than they had been previously.
“The team could have either splintered and start pointing fingers at each other, or become galvanised like we did,” says Fava.
“It actually made it good for the team as a whole. Not so good for Nussy but these things happen.”
The Brumbies topped the Super 12 table, then swept aside Waikato in the semi-finals to tee up another date with their old rivals Canterbury in the final.
Who could possibly forget that decider? ACT tore through the Crusaders, scoring five tries in the opening quarter to jump out to a 33-0 lead. The visitors showed some pluck in the final 60 minutes but were never able to get back into the game. Final score: 47-38.
“In hindsight, we built ourselves up to be that team that would come out and put 30 on a team straight away,” says Fava.
“We just had so much talent.”
Fava spent one more year in the nation’s capital before taking up a new challenge with Super Rugby expansion team, the Western Force.
The fervour of the Perth faithful took Fava by surprise. They were more than ready to be invited into the glitzy world of Super Rugby whether the players were always ready or not.
“My wife Sarah and I just moved into Cottesloe. We went out for dinner and soon had about ten people come up and wanna have a chat. A couple of guys even pulled up chairs just wanting to know everything that was going on. It was insane!” he says.
“These guys had been sitting there and waiting for this team to happen for decades and it was all coming out. We saw that on a daily basis.”
The Force’s first game was on the Friday night of the season’s opening round. The occasion was truly something to savour for Fava.
“To walk out in front of 40-odd thousand screaming WA fans at Subiaco was unbelievable,” he says.
“Nathan Sharpe was captain and I was vice-captain. It was just a great moment and we were playing against the Brumbies my old team from the year before. There was a lot of emotion there for me.”
Fava was able to channel this emotion well. He brought the sell-out crowd to its feet when he scored the franchise’s first ever try. It tied the game up in the 46th minute and had the competition newbies within reach of winning their maiden professional match. The Brumbies were too good in the end though, prevailing 25-10.
The Force kept pulling the crowds all season. Despite not winning any of their home games, they still drew an average crowd of 28,376.
The results did start to come during the following two seasons. The Force won 13 of their 26 games and were a respectable mid-table team.
Head coach John Mitchell instituted a strict culture of behaviour, which led to improved results on the paddock. Fava, though, struggled on a few occasions to adapt to the high expectations.
He exceeded the team’s alcohol limit twice, then was reprimanded for handling a quokka while at a team bonding session on Rottnest Island. Fava apologised profusely and paid a hefty fine for his misbehaviour. He admits now that it took him a while to adjust to life with his new team, particularly after a work hard, play hard mentality at the Brumbies.
“It was a matter of going from one culture to another, and I didn’t react quickly enough to it,” he says.
“My daughter Poppy was just born too and I wasn’t going out with the boys as much. When I did go out I thought that I could keep up with the others and that also put pressure on me. It was difficult to balance things and I just didn’t balance it well.”
After three seasons on the west coast, Fava would then return to his home state in 2009 to join the Waratahs with whom he signed for two seasons. Sadly for him, he would only make it through two games.
A serious back injury resulted in Fava being unable to continue his playing career. It was a gut-wrenching end for the veteran number eight, who was looking forward to the next phase of his rugby journey.
“I had a plan in place,” he says.
“I was going to come home, buy a house, hit those two years at the Waratahs then I was looking to go overseas.”
“It was tough. It stopped my career and my chance of finishing where I wanted to be from a financial point of view, and it was difficult to just stop there and then. Going overseas was always one of the things that I wanted to do.”
Fava ended up receiving compensation in 2013 as the Waratahs physiotherapist was found to have been negligent with his treatment.
At this time Fava was in his fourth year as head coach of Northern Suburbs in Sydney’s Shute Shield competition. He held this role through 2014 when he decided to take a break from senior rugby.
These days the father of three works in both the fitness and health industries. He manages a gym and a spin-class studio in Canberra, and also runs a meal delivery business in Sydney. To stay involved in rugby he coaches his son’s junior rep team at Southern Districts.
Fava hopes to coach professionally again at some point in the future. He missed his chance to play abroad, but perhaps will get the opportunity to fulfill his travel ambitions one day as a mentor.
“That burning desire to go overseas is still there. To be able to take the family over – maybe in a few years’ time – would be ideal. But it will depend on opportunities and where we sit as a family,” he says.
The Super Rugby world could also come calling again. Fans of this competition from the 2000s will vividly remember the guy with the Roman nose, side burns and taped thighs galloping up field with the pill tucked securely in the crook of his left arm.
Fava was always an honest performer, and from time to time even a slayer of giants. The people who saw him floor Jonah Lomu on that day at Yarrow Stadium 20 years ago will attest to that.