The Rock

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.

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - BY MATT CLEARY

The path to a gold jumper doesn’t o€en 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.

MAK­ING WAVES

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.”

CHAS­ING WAVES

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.

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