What do you call an Irishman who calls Canberra home and is passionate about coffee?
No, this isn’t the start of an Irish joke, but instead the story of former Brumbies star Ruaidhri (pronounced Rory) Murphy, who has returned to Canberra since hanging up the boots and is now running Nomad Coffee at the University of Canberra; literally a three minute walk from the HQ of his old Club!
And it’s not just the business side of things that Ruaidhri, like so many other former players, is passionate about; this is a man who knows his piccolo from his short macchiato, and who is passionate about making great coffee.
But before we pour into what he’s doing now, it’s important to first reflect on a truly successful professional career which saw him start his career at Leinster, move to Exeter, make 28 Super Rugby appearances in his three seasons at the Brumbies before finishing off with Ulster, the same Club in Belfast where Christian Leali’ifano just completed a short-term deal. Murphy retired at the tender age of 29, and he admits to some regrets when he looks back on his playing career.
“It is easy looking back and having had some time now with a calm headspace, but I shouldn’t have left the Brumbies,” he admits.
“I loved it here at the Club and everything about Canberra, and my partner and I were happy. My years with the Brums were definitely the best footy years I had.
“I left with a heavy heart when I did leave, but I did have a great experience with Ulster where I got to travel around Europe and live close to Mum and Dad. Had it gone differently over there, I might look back at it differently, but I got injured over there a couple of times and fell down the pecking order.”
Fortunately for Ruaidhri, he had already found something that made him tick, and had an obvious route into the next phase of his life.
“When I was at the Brumbies, I lived with Matt Toomua,” he explains. “We bought a coffee machine to use at home, but then we thought it was heaps of fun, so we went and did a couple of courses on how to make coffee properly.
“When I moved to Ireland, I actually ended up taking a couple of afternoon shifts a week at a local coffee shop in my spare time after training, and then I did another couple of courses to keep upskilling. Going to make coffee became more enjoyable than getting up for training every morning. That made it a pretty easy decision to retire in the end and made it an obvious that working with coffee would be a good place to start as I looked for my next career, so when I moved back to Canberra I began working for Matt’s coffee company Two Before Ten.”
Murphy believes that having a genuine balance between playing Rugby and preparing for the next part of your career is crucial, with playing professionally representing less than a third of most players’ working lives, and he cautions against the idea of simply gaining a degree and expecting to waltz into a career in that field.
“I would assume that probably one in ten players Is lucky enough to retire without the need to head straight into work; the other nine have to be prepped into doing something, and while the notion of study is fantastic and has its’ place, practical experience is critical. I would never have been able to open up the café and start the business from what I learnt in my degree, but in that six months working in the industry between retiring and opening the café I learnt so much. Talking to people; those who were doing the books, fixing the machinery – I learnt so much from those guys, more than I ever learnt in books.
“Rugby is such a small portion of your working life. The game is so professional, you have to take it for what it is, but I often thought that my footy was better when I had a good balance and I was making coffee. The more balanced athlete is ultimately going to be the one who succeeds, but it is hard to teach that to players; they need to work it out themselves.
“I really believe that there are a lot of skills that professional sport gives you that are really transferrable to your next career, such as going to a networking event and speaking to people you don’t know and putting yourself out there. That is invaluable when you get to the real world. Punctuality, being accountable for your performance, working in a team; very seldom is a job spent working on your own, so many of those skills are massive.”
Having purchased the cafe from fellow former player Marco Caputo, when he moved to Japan for a coaching role, Ruaidhri has thrown open the offer to any Brumbies player who is keen to emulate what he did and learn how to make coffee during their free time. Under the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), all players receive a full weekday off in pre-season, and a half-day during the season, to pursue study, work, career planning, or to simply mentally refresh.
“We knew about the café here, and we knew that it was a good business,” he said of the opportunity to purchase Nomad. “Matt (Toomua) was originally a partner in the café, and I still use his coffee. The Brumbies boys are only 200 metres down the road so we see a lot of them every day and we’d love to welcome them down if they were keen (to learn).
“I have heard some whispers from the boys about the CBA and it all sounds really positive for the players, and with that time off now stipulated it’s about each individual maximising that time and realising what it’s actually for, whether that be sleeping in, playing golf, studying or coming in to make some coffee with me.”
Murphy isn’t lost to the game he loves either, recently beginning to progress among underage and elite pathway coaching positions.
“I had no notions to coach when I finished, but I was approached to work with the Brumbies Super Under 20s out of nowhere, and I just jumped at it,” he says. “From there, I just kept jumping in further and further, and the more I wanted they gave me which eventually led me back to my old Club here in Canberra, Gungahlin, where I took on the Colts side.
“With Colts, you really have to actually coach and learn how to manage a group, how to plan sessions and improvise. I really enjoyed it, and then I was able to get the job as Forwards Coach for the Canberra Vikings in the 2017 National Rugby Championship (NRC), and now this year I am going to be the Forwards Coach for the Australian U20s, which I can’t wait for.”
“Australia has a really challenging group this year for the World Rugby Under 20’s Championship in France, with Wales, Japan and New Zealand. We have already started to talk about what the legacy of this year’s team might be, and it’s really exciting to be involved.”
From cappuccinos to scrum resets, biscotti to lineout calls, and everything in between, Ruaidhri Murphy is keeping himself very busy; and he wouldn’t have it any other way.