If Australia is looking for big men, let’s not neglect the old and the fat


Three things in the world of rugby have caught my eye this week, and got me thinking very hard about the way forward, and the possibility of a bright shining future.

The first was the successful return of Kurtley Beale to Super Rugby. This was huge, not only for Beale himself, but for any ageing person looking for inspiration. Beale proved that being 35 is no barrier to being a productive member of society, and that age is just a number, albeit a number that indicates how old you are.

Anyone thinking that their glory days are behind them can now look at Beale and know that as long as you’re in your mid-thirties and possessed of extravagant natural talent, your life isn’t over.

Kurtley Beale has given hope to those over 30 after his positive return to Super Rugby against the Crusaders at HBF Park on April 20, 2024, in Perth. (Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images)

On a slightly more serious note, it has to be a good thing to see Kurtley back, not because he will or should waltz straight into the Wallabies, take charge and turn the nation’s fortunes around, but because surely the more experienced players we have available, who may be able to play a role, the better. Maybe Beale will be up to it in the long term, maybe he won’t, but it’s nice to see more options opening up anyhow.

And speaking of options…the second thing was in Christy Doran’s article on The Roar, which mentioned the disturbing dearth of world-class locks (or, as they used to be called when I was young and people talked properly, second-rowers) in Australian ranks.

If, in certain positions, mainly backline ones, the Australian cup overfloweth, it appears that locks are in short supply.

At least, locks who seem likely to hack it at the highest level are. As Christy pointed out, a Brumbies team with three Wallaby locks was monstered by the Blues, and the cupboard is hardly overflowing. Izack Rodda returned at the weekend, which is a plus, but do we have the second row stocks to make world domination – which I presume is our goal – feasible? It’s a worry.

Izack Rodda at last made his return to professional rugby during the Force’s win over the Crusaders. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The thing about second-rowers is, more than any other position on the field, you really do have to go with what nature grants you. A player can build greater endurance through relentless running, can bulk up with weights, can even increase their speed through fine-tuned training.

But there is no program, either cardio or resistance, that can turn a 180cm human being into a 200cm one. Not at the moment anyway – who knows what science may bring? But presently, the only way to increase a fully-grown adult’s height is via medieval devices banned under the Geneva Convention, and even if we bent the rules a little those tend to leave a fellow lacking the strength needed to push in scrums.

This means you can’t just pick a youngster with a bit of talent and say, OK, if we just work on the kid’s height he could be a great lock. You have to find a youngster with the height and hope to god he turns out to have half-decent hands and be able to run slightly faster than a tree. And they ain’t easy to find.

A good lock is hard to find, as the builders of the Panama Canal were often heard to say. And you can understand why Joe Schmidt and his team of intrepid Wallaby saviours might be chewing their lip over that position more than any other.

However, when you take the first two points I’ve mentioned together, and add the third, one solution may present itself.

No one knows exactly who new Wallabies Joe Schmidt has in his mind regarding selection. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

The third gamechanger of the week is that on Saturday, I, Ben Pobjie, ran out to play for Rouse Hill Renegades Seconds against Kings Old Boys at Centennial Park. In howling winds and torrential rain, I played a full game, and in stark contrast to the last couple of years – since I returned to rugby in my forties after a two-decade break – I was in only moderate agony.

There is a fine line between “out of breath” and “oh god my heart is about explode”, and for almost the entire match on Saturday, I stayed on the right side of it.

Now, here is the crux of the matter. I am forty-five years old. I am two metres tall. I have the attributes both of a wiser, more mature Kurtley Beale and an international lock: age and height. Am I slightly above the optimum weight of a test rugby star? Perhaps, but a professional training program, and RA-funded medical insurance giving me access to affordable Ozempic can fix that.

And while back in junior days, my effectiveness at the lineout was reduced when they first legalised lifting and nobody else on my team could manage to get me off the ground, I’m almost certain Taniela Tupou and Angus Bell have a little more muscle than the front row of the Hills Under-16s.

What I’m saying is, I’m ready. I’m prepared for the call-up. And so are dozens of my towering brothers in arms across the country. When Joe Schmidt looks to us, we will not be found wanting. The confluence of events on the past weekend has shown us that even when selection prospects look threadbare, there are always more options available, if you can think outside the box. And believe me when I say that I’m about as far outside the box as it’s possible to get.

It’s a simple equation: Australian rugby needs big men. I am a big man. It couldn’t be more perfect if we’d matched on Tinder. Again, let me stress, this is not about me: every club in the land has a couple of two-metreites who would be honoured to pull on the gold jersey.

Yes, some of us are getting on in years, but we already know that’s no impediment. Yes, we may not be at peak fitness, but I guarantee you it’ll be easier to whip us into shape than it will be to get an Olympic decathlete to grow fifteen centimetres.

And yes, we have not yet been tested at the highest level, but honestly, how hard can it be? Justin Harrison managed it.

So here is my plea: Joe Schmidt, when you are looking for a solution to your second-row conundrum, do not overlook this nation’s greatest untapped resource: the old, overweight, amateur giants who stand ready to do their duty as soon as needed. And in particular me, who has been wanting to be a Wallaby since I was twelve years old and is really excited to get started ASAP.

Let’s go – let me at those All Blacks and just like Kurtley, I know I’ll do you proud.

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