It takes a team to promote individuals
By Isaac Boss
The urge to play rugby will never leave me.
I’m retired from the professional ranks now for almost two years, but still have the itch to play and can’t wait to get back to New Zealand at some point to stick on the jersey and play with my brothers at Southern United Rugby Club in Tokoroa, where it all started.
Rugby at the highest level is a different beast. Players don’t hang around the after-match functions as much nowadays, because it’s all about winning, recovery and performing. That’s fine and it’s understandable.
But I grew up playing rugby with my family, my best mates and my community. It was amateur and that’s what it was all about for me. I fell into professionalism, because that’s the way the game was going, but the most precious time for me was playing with my four brothers back home in our community.
Professionalism, for me, got to a stage where, if I was to carry on playing, I would be getting contracts for the sake of it. If you’re training more and playing less, the enjoyment factor isn’t the same.
Just last week I played with the Ireland legends against England legends, in what has now become an annual fundraising event. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. We knocked lumps out of each other, after which, beers bought and stories shared. That comradery is what Rugby should always be about.
Growing up in a small multi-cultural community in Tokoroa, New Zealand I never wanted to be an All Black. My area was renowned for doing things differently – although Kevin Mealamu and Richard Kahui went on to be great All Blacks – there were kids who wanted to be Fijian internationals, Samoan internationals and play for other countries.
Sean Maitland, who’s now with Scotland and played for the British and Irish Lions grew up in my town, as did Quade Cooper who, as we know, went on to play for the Wallabies. Not a bad strike rate for a town of 12 000 people!
After playing with the Junior All Blacks in the late 1999, (then New Zealand coach) Graham Henry called me up and asked me to go with the All Blacks on their 2004 tour to Europe.
I had a decision to make. Although tempting, it meant I would never play for Ireland so I turned down that opportunity. I stayed in NZ for another year to complete my University education before I left to follow my Irish heritage and try to make it in the Emerald Isle. As it was, I went on to play 23 times for Ireland and enjoyed a long career of almost 400 first-class games including being capped well over 100 times for both Ulster and Leinster.
Rugby is about family for me, in case you hadn’t guessed.
That’s why I got involved with the Player’s Association here in Ireland and now International Rugby Players. It’s about bringing the club and family culture to what we’re doing and that support network is valuable. That thing about really looking after one another is what the values of the game is about. Players can make a great living from rugby these days and it is a career choice, which is great. But there are also people making money from the players; whether it be unions, agents, sponsors or clubs so it is important to protect the individual in this landscape and make sure they are not exploited.
I’ve been renowned for being a team person throughout my career. I’ve always had time for everyone. That’s the way I was brought up.
It takes a team to promote individuals. for better or worse, the market will generally look after the top tier of players and that’s why we’re lucky to have guys like Johnny Sexton and Richie McCaw represent us, as our Northern and Southern Hemisphere Presidents. We are here to prevent it being for the worse and it’s the lower tier of player, the team players and the grafters that need us to shout for them. It’s really important that there’s equality for players in our sport. The stars do their magic on the back of a good team performance.
It’s important that we don’t forget that.
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