So one of my main reasons for coming to study in Australia was my love of the sports they play here. Back at Haverford I play both cricket and rugby, and I really wanted to experience living in country where those sports were understood and enjoyed. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of professional matches since I’ve been down here, including an AFL (aussie rules football) match, an NRL (rugby league) match, and a Super 14 (rugby union) match.
The rugby union (the code I play) game was in Wellington, NZ over spring (technically fall here) break; I’ll cover that trip in more detail soon. It was between the Crusaders and Hurricanes, which are both from New Zealand (although the league covers NZ, Aus, and South Africa), and it was an absolutely amazing experience for me, because the Crusaders are the team that I have been following for the past 3 years since I picked up rugby. We had 4th row seats, right behind the try zone, and to see all the players in person that I’ve been watching play online for so long was absolutely unforgettable.
I also have tickets to see the Australian national rugby union team, The Wallabies, play Ireland next month in an international tour match. That should also be phenomenal, especially since I’m going with a very diverse crowd of rugby players from all over the world who I met down here while playing for the Melbourne Uni team.
Before I arrived, I emailed the recruiting director of University of Melbourne’s rugby team, and made sure that I could play, and ever since my second day in the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve been playing some of the most competitive and educational rugby of my short career. The team is mindboggling; at Haverford we’re lucky to field the requisite 15 for any given match, last weekend, we had an A side, a B side, two C sides, and an under 21 side (which I’m playing for), with a total of nearly 100 players getting game time. That’s not to say that they are all students, the club is associated with the University, but being a student is not required, and most people on the team have nothing to do with the school, just live nearby. In fact, I was surprised to find out that college sports down here are seriously de-emphasized, especially when you consider that the school has 40,000 or so students.
Nonetheless, playing for the squad has been a great learning experinece. Not only is the standard of play much higher than in the states (because people have been playing the game since they could walk, rather than picking it up in college), but the teams resources are incredible. The coaching staff is as big as a D1 football team would have, and it includes several ex-international players, including 1 guy who was an integral part of Australia’s World Cup finals team in 2003. I’ve actually been getting regular playing time, starting 4 matches, and only coming off the bench for 1 so far, and although the players are better and the game is more ingrained in their subconscience, they are really not THAT much different than players in the US at the college level.
I’m looking forward to the next 7 weeks of the season, as long as my body holds up (I have a soft tissue injury in my knee, a bruised AC joint, more bruises than I can count, and a pretty serious bump on my nose), and I’m especially excited to bring what I’ve learned back to the Haverford team next season.