Imagine being a Club rugby player in Victoria, plying your trade in the Dewar Shield, and then suddenly being thrusted onto AAMI Park against the Japan Rugby World Cup Squad.
Well, for a group of Victorian Club players, that dream became a reality when the Melbourne Rising versed the Japan Wolfpack side in last Friday night’s curtain raiser.
While the Rising were unable to overcome Japan, the disappointment of a 37-12 defeat was simply overwhelmed by the invaluable international experiences which Club players were exposed to.
One of the players which took part in the match was Melbourne University/ Melbourne Rebels Academy player Ola Tauelangi.
The 19-year-old, who hails from Ballarat, shone in the back row against a very imposing Japanese forward pack.
And after only picking up a Gilbert for the first time at 16 years of age, the St Patrick’s product couldn’t have envisaged that he’d be versing an international rugby team three years later.
“Absolutely not,” Tauelangi said.
“I just started playing rugby about three years ago, so it was pretty surreal to get out onto AAMI Park.
“It was an honour to put that jersey on. Especially for me and a few others who grew up in Victoria, so it was pretty surreal.
“It gives you a taste of what you can do, you sort of just want to keep training and keep striving to be a Rebels player.”
Another Victorian product who gained invaluable experience was St Kevin’s College youngster Mosese Tuipulotu.
The younger brother of Melbourne Rebels back Sione, Mosese came off the bench for a twenty-minute stint in the second half.
After spending the whole of the 2018/19 summer training with the Rebels’ Super Rugby squad, the 18-year-old was simply excited to get his first taste of professional rugby.
“It was really exiting, it was cool to see a couple of Melbourne boys in the team, that helped me really get pumped up,” he said.
“I was playing with a couple of boys like Jordan (Uelese), so it was cool to get out there, even if it was just two minutes or five minutes, playing with some quality players was good.
“It changed my perspective on how the game is played at that level. I’m loving it so far, and I’m hoping I can do it again later in the year.”
Another Victorian Club player who performed strongly during the match was Melbourne Unicorns fly half James So’oialo.
Originally born in Wellington, New Zealand, So’oialo was one of the few players to have tasted international rugby previously after playing seven games for Samoa, including debuting at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
And although the 30-year-old has performed on bigger international stages before, So’oialo says the thrill of being asked to be a part of last Friday night’s curtain raiser still gave the back Goosebumps.
“Everyone in Victorian rugby are good people and very friendly.
I was overwhelmed by Pom Simona’s (Rising Co-Head Coach) phone call asking for the opportunity to have a game for the Rising against Japan,” he said.
“It was good to be back in top rugby and I was speechless when I went on the field, I was completely buzzing.”
General Manager Professional Rugby & Pathways Nick Ryan concluded that the whole curtain raiser was a great win for Club Rugby in Victoria.
Ryan says the invaluable experience of having Club players play against international rugby talent would do wonders for the development of Victorian rugby.
“I was extremely pleased with how the Victorian rugby players acquitted themselves against a quality Wolfpack outfit,” Ryan said.
“We’re really committed to developing local talent to come through the Victorian Club pathway and strive to become professional rugby players for the Melbourne Rebels.
“Friday night’s curtain raiser was a great opportunity for those Club players who played and I’m sure they’ll take their experiences back to their local teams.”