FOR YEARS, AND FOR WHATEVER REASONS, THE CALL NEVER CAME FOR SCOTT FARDY. AND THEN IT DID. NOW, HE’S NOT ONLY A WALLABY, HE’S AMONG THE MOST CONSISTENT FORWARDS IN WORLD RUGBY.
The path to a gold jumper doesn’t oen involve a detour to Japan and a brush with natural disaster. For Wallaby stalwart Sco Fardy, it did.
W HAT’S OFTEN lost in the interminable argument about the relative merits of our two rugby codes is that half the players in either sport are of little use to the other one. Those players – let’s call them “forwards” – perform quite different, specialised tasks. And save for giant All Blacks and Maroons madman Brad Thorn, these people have little cross-over value.
Consider the front rows. The South African saying goes that your first-picked player is the tight-head prop; second picked is your reserve tight-head. It’s testament to the value of these squat, pseudo Sumos, these union thugs, these thick-necked Bond henchmen in the tight and dark places of rugby ruck, maul and scrum.
The league scrum, meanwhile, is a penis-less joke. Yet the league prop is the greatest bash-man in world sport. Armed with speed unbefitting a human being of 110kg and change, they sprint like crazed beasts into a legislated ten-metre chunk of no man’s land towards an aptly named “wall” made up of similarly giant, crazed beast-masters. The physicality of these collisions, the meaty, thick, bone-on-bone intensity of these “hits” … you don’t see it on television. I have sat sideline in NRL games. They almost make you sick.
More nuanced but equally invisible to the casual observer of rugby union – and that’s you, league-only fan, you parochial Negative Nancy – is the value of a player like Wallabies No.6 Scott Fardy. For Fardy is the glue of the Wallabies’ forward pack. His “work” – and work it is, there’s nothing flash about the black-bearded back-rower – can be missed in the maelstrom. But if his fellow back-row scavenger David Pocock is the best over the ball in the game, Fardy is on the next line of betting. And for a bloke his height (198cm, or six-foot-six) he’s among the best there is. He’s not Kieran Read, because that guy’s ridiculous. But he’s our version of him. He’s the best one we have.
Yet league folk are in good company in missing Fardy’s merits. He was missed by the biggest brains in Australian rugby. He
could’ve been missed altogether. Not just a fringe man, a never man. He was on the edges at the Waratahs and the Force, considered a top “clubbie”, maybe. But he wasn’t rated by those who matter. His gym numbers were poor. He wasn’t in The System. He didn’t pull on an Aussie jumper until he pulled on The Australian Jumper.
But then he came from Japan. And grew a big black beard. And now he’s first picked in the six.
There are players who love the physicality of rugby. Look at them, joyously bashing headlong into rucks and mauls, slamming into their fellow man, blood and scars and stitches worn like tough stickers. Some blokes love this stuff, they bristle with it. Yet it’s rare for a player to be as consistently joyous in its application as Scott Fardy. Put it this way: Brad Thorn would approve.
“You need those guys who want to tough it out in the worst parts of the field,” says Fardy’s friend and fellow Brumbies man, Clyde Rathbone. “There’s a lot of guys who seem to revel in the hard stuff. But ‘Fards’ does it week in, week out. His head is starting to look like roadkill.”
In late 2011, following the fractious Andy Friend years when a senior bloc of Brumbies – infused with the club’s storied “Player Power” ethos – had tried to dictate when they would train and how hard, and how often their coach should address them (true), Jake White and Laurie Fisher cleaned the slate with a stiff new broom.
Fisher – then forwards coach, now head man at Gloucester Rugby in England – says he and White were trying to establish “a work ethic team”. And they heard about a grafter in Japan. “We put some feelers out and got a note about Fards. I’d actually been keen on him a couple of years before, playing for Warringah; he won the Catchpole Medal for best in the comp. But it didn’t come about.
“So Jake had this name thrown at him, and it was like, let’s give him a crack. There was no downside to it. He had plenty of experience, was obviously a good footballer, and just hadn’t been able to crack it for whatever reason.”
So they brought Fardy home from Kamaishi Seawaves. It was a bit of a punt but not a huge one. Fisher knew just enough of the man to feel he’d fit the bill. Plus he was only on chump change: $40k, minimum wage.
It proved a perfect storm. Fisher is considered one of best coaches of forward play around. Fardy was 27 and in the last-chance saloon. Asked how everyone missed Fardy for so long, Fisher is matterof-fact. “There’s a shit-load of good footballers out there that don’t crack it. And there’s a range of reasons why they don’t get the opportunity.”
For Fardy, that word – “opportunity” – was the nub of it. He’d been at Western Force but wasn’t rated by John Mitchell. He was behind Richard Brown, David Pusey, Matt Hodgson and Scott Fava. He never had a chance. He played locally for Perth-Bayswater, the only Aussie among a team of Kiwis.
He went back to his local mob, Warringah Rats. Won that Catchpole Medal. But still Australian rugby didn’t want him. Not one of the four provincial franchises could find space for him. He went to Japan. Lived a life. Grew, as a man and a player. And there he waited for the call. For three years, even when Melbourne Rebels turned up, the call never came. And then it did. He flew home and trained pre-season in the hot Canberra sun, went gangbusters, sweated buckets. Before the first match, ironically against the Force, he was nervous about being named. He’d been 23rd man more times than he could remember. Then he read his name and thought, “Here we go – finally.”
He would play every game of 2012. And he smashed long-held perceptions. Ask him if he’s a bloke who likes to stick it up his detractors, if he used that as motivation, he smiles through his fine black beard. “No. They’re external things, you don’t worry about them. You worry only about what you can control.”
Rote stuff, for sure. But these are the smarts a 28-year-old man has that a 21-year-old may not. Young men simply haven’t lived long enough to acquire that sort of wisdom. Their brains are yet to mature. They’re at their peak in terms of warrior functionality, but they’re still boys in so many ways.
“The biggest thing for Fards,” says Rathbone, “is that he’s worked real jobs, on roofs as a tradie. A lot of younger guys who may have had an ‘easier’ road, who may have come out of high school as the best player in their team, gone into academies, straight from there to Super Rugby, they’ve never known the realities of the other side.
“With Fards you got the sense he really has a deep appreciation for the job. He knows how fortunate he is. You only have to look at the work ethic he’s developed that he’s not a bloke who takes the opportunity for granted.”
“We knew he’d be hungry,” says Fisher. “He fitted that mould of a guy who’d roll up his sleeves and do whatever was asked of him.”
They played him off the bench the first two games. By round three he was in the starting six. He would play every game that year, flourished in the professional setup and drove himself to become the player he always felt he could be. The one
“YOU NEED THOSE GUYS WHO WANT TO TOUGH IT OUT IN THE WORST PARTS OF THE FIELD.”
that Fisher reckons, over the ball, is “as good as anyone in the world for a bloke that height”.
“We did a lot of work on the breakdown and he was always a guy keen to put his head over the ball,” says Fisher. “He’s got good flexibility, good balance. And he’s always had that hard edge about him. In hard situations he’s prepared to take a bit of punishment.
“Big thing is he has a big engine and can play the full 80. He has the capacity to push himself. And he set a really good example for other guys in the squad.”
Fardy has become a multifunction forward. He’s a lineout option, a ruck destroyer, he can poach the pill. He’s a staunch (if not feared) defender. He makes every breakdown a contest. Good leg drive, good body height. He’s strong over the ball and has added some footwork and athleticism to his running game. “He’s always had good instincts,” says Fisher. “But by strengthening his hip flexors and adductors, his power output, it’s transferred to his capacity to get to soft shoulders and exploit space.”
(“Soft shoulders”? Yes, I didn’t quite get that bit of rugby-speak either. So I emailed Fisher and he said it “just means better footwork to enable him to make a defender reach for him rather than midline him and take the full force of the tackle”.)
Ask anyone who’s played with Fardy and they won’t remember a standout, man-of-the-match performance. But nor will they be able to think of a bad one. Rathbone says it’s the biggest rap he could give him. Fisher says “the best thing about him is his 100-percent reliability from minute one to minute 80. You know his head’s in the game, his voice is in the game. And he makes very few errors. A real rock in your team.”
Ask Fisher to give himself a rap, as others have, in Fardy’s development, and he’s not shy. “It’s one of the real pleasures of coaching, to develop a player. Ultimately it’s up to them. But to be able to contribute is enormously satisfying; it’s one of the reasons you’re in the coaching game. You enjoy the environment, the buzz, the winning.
“But the biggest pleasure is to see a guy fulfil his potential. And Fards has got every ounce of potential out of himself as a rugby player.”
Scott Fardy grew up near Newport Beach, four doors down from surfing legend Tom Carroll. He grew up surfing and still gets out with mates when he can, though Canberra isn’t quite Waikiki. He played cricket and baseball, and describes his upbringing as “idyllic”. He was a promising rugby player though his progression was a typically slow-burn.
“In my last year at school I was 17 and broke my leg, so I didn’t actually play for my school,” says Fardy. “Then I played all four grades of Colts. Went into senior footy in the thirds, got into firsts. I suppose I just kept on performing just above that level I was at. I just worked my way through.” It could be the title of his biography.
Inside Sport meets the man in a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Sydney’s Potts Point. A big human, he seems to cradle the coffee cup like Shrek on a thimble. The beard suits him – all Ned Kelly and Irish rogue. There’s a glint in his eye. His rumbling, slightly mumbling voice emits a good chuckle.
So, ask him why he couldn’t nail a place at Western Force – or anywhere – despite winning the Catchpole Medal, and he says all following without bitterness. It’s just what happened, stated matter-of-fact.
“I just didn’t get a go,” he says. Why not? “John Mitchell didn’t rate me.” How come? “Mate, that’s rugby, isn’t it? It can be disappointing but it’s what happens in the game.” The Catchpole Medal must’ve been a fillip though, have felt like a breakout season? “I still didn’t get a contract.” Why did he take the gig with Kamaishi Seawaves, the smallest club in Japan? “It was the middle of the GFC. To think I could be playing for the Wallabies five years after that is pretty crazy.”
He signed early in ’09. By the middle of the year he was staying at the home of former All Blacks centre Pita Alatini. The Kiwi would become a big part of his life. “Pita taught me about enjoying the game,” Fardy says. “We’d train really hard and have a lot of fun around the game. He had a young family and came from a completely different upbringing to what I did. It was all an eye-opener, meeting new people, new environments.
“He was this All Black, someone I looked up to. Next thing I’m pretty much living with him and his family. And I did for three years.”
Japan would make Fardy. He’d been spat out of the Australian rugby fishbowl. But in Japan, with plenty of time to train, play, and knock about with a former All Black who made a living – a life – from the game, Fardy began to appreciate what he had. He was earning money for keeping fit and playing a game. He lived in an interesting country with some of the best people he’d meet.
“Over there you can just concentrate on being the best you can be,” he says. “And I probably rediscovered my passion for the game, which I’d lost a bit. You’re in your early 20s, there’s all the stuff that goes on. I’d had a number of disappointments that built up. And for the first year there I probably carried those with me. But the second year I began to appreciate how much rugby had given me.” And he had a really good time. “There was a bunch of us, Aussies and Tongans, Kiwis. I used to go out partying with all the young Japanese blokes. We had a ball. We’d drive off to different towns. Karaoke. I had no idea what was going on.
Fardy's job description: always in the middle of things. Trying to slip one past All Black star Kieran Read.
On a high against Argentina in the World Cup semis last year.