Hands up who has heard about Stockman Rugby? Yep. Thought so. Not many (22% according to my not-so-scientifically designed Twitter poll), so let me fill you in.
The Australian Stockman Rugby team is a representative team drawn from remote, rural and regional Australia. There are 4 criteria used to select participants – Ability, Character, Potential and Experience, and Strength and Fitness. In the words of the Stockman Founder Shaun Makin, “their rugby related attributes are important, but we believe their character and behaviour is also important.”
So, why am I telling you this? Well, Stockman Rugby Australia are about to depart on a three week tour to New Zealand and Argentina. A squad of 26 players, three coaches, a physio, a referee, and a Cultural Attache (how do I get that job) have their tour launch on Saturday (21st October) before departing to represent the principles of grassroots rugby in five games, two in New Zealand and three in Argentina.
Chris Roche, former Wallaby and Australian U19’s and U20’s coach is the head coach of the team and I was lucky enough to speak to him last week about the concept and the upcoming tour. Chris joined what was then the Queensland Stockman for a tour to Ireland in 2015 and liked what they were about. The chance to be involved with rural & regional players that don’t generally get a lot of opportunities, and to connect with the youth and country blokes who may not have a lot of talent but make up for that with endeavour and spirit. “People have got to feel that they have the chance to fulfil whatever dreams they may have.” And in many cases this just may be the culmination of that dream.
So why does Chris remain involved? To gain the sense of satisfaction from seeing the smile on a young blokes face when he achieves something he never thought he would. And because the tour encompasses “the true essence of rugby because there is not money involved and no personal or selfish [agendas]”. Like it used to be when rugby was amateur.
So what do the players get out of this exercise? Each of the players actually has to stump up a fair amount of cash so it is not like this is a free holiday with a bit of rugby on the side. They have to abide by a code of conduct and there are standards they have to meet. The management group is not going to hesitate to stand players down, not play them, or even cut them from the tour entirely if the matter was serious. This is a representative rugby tour and will be treated as such.
On the rugby front, the players get to work with some professional, highly qualified and experienced coaches. Let’s face it Chris’s rugby resume makes for some pretty good reading. If there is any player that the coaching team feel should be looked at by levels higher in Australian Rugby than what they are playing then they will make that known where they can. An opportunity that many blokes from regional areas are not likely to get terribly often.
But this is not just about rugby. This particular tour is hoping to address the prickly topic of mental health within the regional areas of Australia. With male suicide rates in rural Australia being almost twice that of urban areas, sport is an important component of addressing the problems that exist. Chris sees an opportunity to pass on some of his life experience and hopefully help in any shape or form that he can. Not only does he hope to get the “young fellas to give everything on the rugby field, but off the field, get them into a supportive environment where they can feel at ease to talk about other more important issues they may have in their life.” This can only improve the resilience of these young men.
So, back to the selections, how much input has the Coach had? None at all apparently. “I need to get to know them very quickly. One day we are together, the next day we are on the plane, two days later playing [the first game in New Zealand]. I haven’t met any easy kiwi teams in my life & don’t expect these two to be any different.” Despite this, they are still going with every intention to win. Remember this is a rugby tour, not a social tour.
If this has peeked your interest, check out Australian Stockman Rugby on Facebook or over at their website. As mentioned previously, their season launch is on this Saturday on the 21st at the Mill Hotel on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, so if you want to show your support feel free to book here. And stay tuned to Green and Gold Rugby. Part two looking at the playing squad will be coming soon.