Day Three, the final day of the RUPA Induction Camp, is upon us and after a busy couple of days this one will be no different. Last night was a real highlight of the camp, as Australian Rugby Union (ARU) boss Bill Pulver joined former professional players James Holbeck, Patrick Phibbs, Ben Seymour and Morgan Turinui in passing on some additional wisdom to the rookies.
First, I had the pleasure of MC’ing a Q & A session with both Pulver and RUPA CEO Ross Xenos. I didn’t know who to go easier on; one is the boss of Rugby in Australia and the other is the man who offered me my job at RUPA, and who I report to! Thankfully, both were in their usual good spirits, more than happy to talk about a range of issues such as the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the looming broadcast deal, the expanded Super Rugby competition and both the challenges and successes of the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) in 2015.
In its’ second season the NRC continued to prove a wonderful breeding ground for Australian talent, with more than 50% of the Camo’s inductees having played in the competition, however attendances remain at a relatively low number and clearly the major challenge for the competition surrounds marketing it so that both ‘rusted-on’ Rugby fans and also new supporters are attracted to games.
Pulver and Xenos, as well as the past players, then rotated around the tables and chatted to all of the new players. Seymour and Turinui have recently returned from playing in Europe and were able to pass on advice from their stints overseas, while Holbeck’s career was disrupted and ultimately shortened by injury; his advice to the group regarding making the most of preparations for life after Rugby was most valuable!
So on to this morning, and we’re through to the final few interviews for RUPA TV. Every single one of the Camp’s inductees is put through intensive questioning by myself and camera-man Cam; questions vary from “What are your plans for life after Rugby” to “Describe why the Australian public should follow you on Instagram”! To their credit, all the rookies have done a wonderful job in their interviews, particularly those who haven’t had to do an interview like this before; standouts include the Reds’ Michael Gunn, Rebels’ Sione Tuipulotu, Western Force’s Guy Millar and Australian Rugby Sevens’ Laura Waldie.
Breakfast well and truly taken care of, it’s into the final presentation of the 2015 RUPA Induction Camp, and there’s a reason we’ve saved this one until last; typically, it has a profound impact upon the group. Rod ‘Rocket’ Campbell of the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service is here to speak about road safety, bringing with him people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by road trauma. There’s Michael, who was telling his story for the first time in public, and there’s Eli whose movement, speech and memory are heavily affected by an avoidable road accident.
This session leads to many watery eyes; it’s intense, and Rod makes no apologies for the lack of sugar-coating. Road safety continues to be a major issue in Australia and around the world, and as we all pledge to get back towards the golden number of zero it’s just so important that we make the most of this opportunity to speak to a group of young drivers with the ability to impact change in this area.
From here, Rosemary reminds the players that they are now professional Rugby players, they will be provided with access to many opportunities throughout their career, both on and off the field, and it’s up to them to make the right choices and take advantage of all that they can; and above all, enjoy the experience. It’s now time to fill out feedback forms (let’s hope they’re all nice about us!), check out of the hotel rooms and file on to the bus as the rookies’ get to finally experience what many have spent all week looking forward to the most – the annual RUPA Awards Lunch at Sydney hotspot The Ivy!
With over 300 guests coming to the Volvo-RUPA 20th Anniversary Awards Lunch, it’s important we get the rookies there just a smidgen early so we can take care of some final formalities. Firstly, we take the opportunity to take some group photos on the Ivy Ballroom’s exquisite staircase, and once Western Force centre Ammon Matuauto remembers to keep his eyes open we have taken some great happy snaps.
Into the ballroom we go, and the rookies are greeted by the smiling faces of hosts Georgina Robinson (of Sydney Morning Herald and Rugby HQ fame) and Benn Robinson (Waratahs and Wallaby prop). Georgina’s very quick to make sure we all know Benn isn’t her husband, or even her brother; the new mum is pretty keen to ensure there’s no misunderstandings there, describing ‘Fat Cat’ as “far too short for her!”
Other recognisable faces at the lunch include Wallabies Tatafu Polota-Nau and Kurtley Beale, with ‘Taf’ going out of his way to go and meet all a table-full of rookies, as well as Fox Sports’ hosts Louise Ransome and Nick McArdle, and Wallaby legend Simon Poidevin. Beale performs the traditional Welcome to Country, before rookie Jack Dempsey (nephew of RUPA founder Tony Dempsey) is fortunate enough to win the Volvo Heads or Tails Trivia Challenge; no word yet on whether Waratahs’ Head Coach Daryl Gibson wants to keep the case of St. Hallet’s premium wines on ice until the end of the season for Jack!
It’s a great afternoon, with the absent David Pocock winning his second Medal for Excellence as well as the Volvo People’s Choice Award, while Sefanaia Naivalu in the Newcomer of the Year – he was at this Camp in late 2014, and no doubt many of the rookies were thinking about the possibility of following in his shoes and winning the award next year.
Ben Daley’s outstanding study success is acknowledged as he wins the Academic Achievement Award upon completing his Bachelor of Laws at Bond University (at the top of his class, no less!) after nine arduous years of study alongside his professional Rugby career. Paddy Ryan, Cam Clark, Charlotte Caslick and Ita Vaea are among the other award winners, before the afternoon draws to a close and it’s time to head back to their respective Clubs.
It’s been a deadest pleasure getting to know these young ladies and men, and it’s certain that we have some future Olympic Games medallists and Wallabies among the group.
And so ends the 2015 RUPA Camp, a thoroughly enjoyable experience for yours truly, my colleagues at RUPA and all of the presenters and special guests. While we can only go on the feedback we receive on the forms, I’m incredibly confident that our rookies have had a great time as well as learning plenty of things which will prepare them for life as a professional Rugby player. With a handshake and farewell to Rebels’ Number Eight Harley Fox, we’re officially done and dusted; that’s a wrap!