‘Seeing the players as people’: How a Western Force meet reminded me of the beauty of grassroots rugby

Recently, members of the Western Force left their HQ in Floreat, Perth and travelled to Albany to host a rugby festival called the Force of the Fields. This was an open rugby clinic for children between the ages of 8-15 years old predominantly, however, fans and supporters were welcome too.

Among the Force players who attended were Harry Potter, Argentina rep Santiago Medrano, WA homegrown players Carlo Tizzano and Marley Pearce and several others.

As well as being able to learn about rugby, how to play, techniques and various rugby-related activities, the children were able to get signatures and selfies.

While the day had been sunny there was a strong wind blowing, not uncommon for Albany. The children weren’t perturbed by the game ball drifting in that wind either, calls of ‘no forward pass’, or ‘no knock on’ were heard and giggles ensued but the running never stopped.

Note: I am not affiliated with the Western Force at all but I did appreciate the event and have taken out a taken out a new Supporter membership. Overall the Force players were great ambassadors at promoting the game. They really were adept at interacting with the children and making it a fun and memorable experience.

That’s also key in developing the sport, getting a child to not only be interested in taking part but enjoying it and wanting more. There were lots of smiling faces, some solid little tacklers, some bumps but plenty of thumbs up and questions both rugby-related and some unrelated, were answered.

The children were encouraged and for a fan of the game itself, to me, that was encouraging too. There were families who were genuinely interested and invested in the game. They want their own kids to do well, the Western Force to do well and Australian rugby to do well.

I know other Super Rugby clubs across Australia and New Zealand have their own kids rugby clinics and PR events. The rugby culture can certainly be grown and nurtured with good will and grassroots programs like this.

Marley Pearce. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

I’m not saying anything new here about what rugby in Australia needs, just that we could do with more of this.

Those feelings the locals have about wanting to see their kids, Super Rugby team and Australian rugby do well are also exemplified by new Force recruit Harry Potter. Harry feels very strongly about making the Western Force successful right now and also wants the Wallabies and Australian rugby in general to be the best they can be. Success drives success.

Santiago Medrano, another great guy and rugby advocate. Also yes his chest really is that huge. I enjoyed hearing him talk about his homeland, how his father played rugby and how he got into it. Santi also loves travelling and has stories about cities from all over the world. His love of his homeland and how he likes to compare other places back to Argentina was refreshing.

For the local children to see and meet Super Rugby players that are homegrown ones like Carlo Tizzano and Marley Pearce as well as international players was a glimpse into a possible future. Little minds began to think maybe one day that could be them.

Carlo Tizzano. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

The experience at and around the oval was not just about rugby, it felt like we got to see the players as real people and relate more to them because of that.

I was lucky enough to have a chat with Huw Lock, the Western Force Business Development Manager. After which he gave me a ball signed by the whole team. That’s pretty special and I’m really chuffed about that. All the kids present were excited with all the goodies and balls they received as well.

When leaving, Huw also gave me a team poster and asked if I had been given a hat, to which I replied ‘No, it’s ok, make sure all the kids get one’. He smiled, took his own hat off and gave it to me. Such a nice guy. This is the kind of culture that impresses me. Both on and off the field these guys live and breathe the code.

This really was a great experience for a regional area and I know from talking to other fans and families they appreciated the Force visiting and putting in such an effort to make this happen.

Thanks for an amazing day out @AFGRIAU! ????

Visiting Albany was an absolute treat. The team thoroughly enjoyed connecting with the local community and spreading our love of rugby! #growingthegame #afgriau pic.twitter.com/XeBntslaoN

— Western Force (@westernforce) November 22, 2023

I certainly did as I used to play for Albany when I was younger. Back then we didn’t have enough players to make up a full team and borrowed players from surrounding towns. We returned the favour by playing for those same towns. It was a regular occurrence to play two full matches in one day, first for Albany, then after to play for a team representing Denmark, Katanning or Narrogin. This also meant players’ positions would change depending on who was available and for which team. In one game someone might be a lock, in another a blindside flanker. A winger one game, an outside centre another. A front rower one game, well you get the idea. Crazy days full of fun. We made do with what we had. It’s probably why I love the ethos of the Barbarian teams so much to this day.

While life has meant I moved on and travelled I still have fond memories of playing in a regional area. This place really could be anywhere.

The future of the game has been called into question a bit lately and this year was a hard one for Aussie Rugby fans and supporters. I feel positive though that with ongoing grassroots-level rugby clinics like this one, especially in regional areas as well as inner cities, the game can continue to grow.

There’s a lot of talent around and sometimes we have to help create that talent by starting early. Then learn to keep it.

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Children are the future of any sport. The future of rugby is in our hands. One day it will be in theirs. Let’s keep giving them the best start we can.

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