36 young professionals gathered at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Coogee yesterday for the annual #RUPACamp, a two-day camp which is designed to help prepare them for their first year as full-time Rugby professionals.
While the Western Force had flown in on Sunday evening and were all well-equipped with both the hotel gym and the excellent breakfast buffet, the other professional squads joined one by one, including Australian Rugby Sevens stars Josh Coward, Shanice Parker and Emma Sykes directly from Dubai.
The Camp got underway with a cracking barbecue and the inaugural #RUPACamp Volvo Remote Controlled Car Challenge, with teams participating in time trials ahead of the final on Wednesday morning. A short circuit was quickly mapped out by Waratahs Player Development Manager Lachlan McBain and each squad stepped up for a crack, with mixed results; let's just say it might be best to steer clear of Demi Hayes & Fereti Sa'aga if they drive real cars like remote controlled ones!
Check out some of the best snaps from Day One of #RUPACamp on our Facebook page.
The presentations kicked off with Australian Rugby Union General Manager, High Performance, Ben Whitaker speaking to the group about what it means to be a Rugby professional in Australia. He spoke to the standards and expectations of being a professional, as well as how professional players can set achievable goals and target long and successful careers.
Next, RUPA's Toby Duncan and Patrick Phibbs spoke to the group about the role that RUPA players in their professional careers, before running a workshop designed to help evaluate what these young professionals view as the most important topics affecting their ability to be professional athletes. The players came alive and there were some fantastic debates, with Shanice Parker leading the way when educating some of the young men about the differences of women's player contracting and Ned Hanigan speaking passionately about the importance of family support. Mental health, educational pursuits away from Rugby and financial management were other topics they were keen to ensure RUPA continued to prioritise and educate players about.
After a quick snack, sushi and delicious nectarines provided by RUPA sponsor Freshmax, it was in to a Cultural Diversity and Inclusion workshop with Bernadette Stephens, who has Fijian heritage and helped educate the group about some of the personality traits of pasifika players. With approximately 35% of Australia's professional Rugby players identifying as Pacific Islanders, and a healthy representation at RUPA Camp, this proved a really popular session.
Luke Ablett is a former AFL superstar from the Sydney Swans, but yesterday he spoke to the group on behalf of Our Watch, a government initiative supported by all professional sporting codes in Australia which raises awareness around domestic violence and sexual consent, and the role professional athletes can play in reducing current statistics. It was a raw workshop with some challenging themes, but a sign of the maturity of the group that they approached it professionally and hopefully learnt some things that they weren't previously aware of.
The afternoon break allowed an opportunity for players to do some training, with Henry Taefu and Marcus Vanzati taking their hotel-issued pink umbrellas and heading down to Coogee Oval for a run and kick in the rain, while others such as Brumbies Jordan Jackson-Hope and Faalelei Sione heading off with RUPA TV to record some interviews; and were very impressive!
Finally to dinner, and besides being an awesome buffet it was also Media Night. For the first time in #RUPACamp history, FOX Sports commentators Nick McArdle and Stephen Hoiles presented to the group, showing examples of some good TV interviews and some (from other sports) where the players came across poorly because they either failed to prepare or came into the interview with the wrong attitude.
One of the best moments of the camp came when McArdle highlighted a wonderful post-game interview with Melbourne Rebels centre Sione Tuipulotu, who had attended #RUPACamp last year and made a fantastic first impression when he joined Nick and former Wallaby star Phil Kearns for an interview after starring on his Super Rugby debut.
I spoke to the group around some of the benefits (and potentially pitfalls) of using social media, before wrapping up and drawing the curtain on a great first day of Camp.
This year's group are engaged, friendly and highly inquisitive, certainly asking more questions than we've perhaps seen in years gone by. With last year's group already boasting two Wallabies (Reece Hodge and Tom Robertson) and some World Champions (Dom Du Toit and Mahalia Murphy), who knows what might come out of the class of 2016...