Ballymore Beat. Culture Round Has Many Meanings

Thu, May 9, 2024, 11:54 PM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
Prop Sef Fa'agase proudly wearing the Reds' Pasifika warm-up shirt. Photo: Stefan Ahfuni
Prop Sef Fa'agase proudly wearing the Reds' Pasifika warm-up shirt. Photo: Stefan Ahfuni

For Queensland Reds prop Sef Fa’agase, culture is essential to his identity. The large tattoo inked across his back blends the Samoan coat of arms with the coastline of Australia.

“Samoan and Aussie-raised” is how the broad-shouldered prop describes himself because he is a proud amalgam of his upbringing and heritage.

In many ways, Fa’agase is the perfect example of what Culture Round in Super Rugby Pacific is all about.

It’s not about one culture, it’s a showcase of the diverse cultures brought together by rugby.

A parade of national flags, Fijian dancers at half-time, a pre-game acknowledgement by a Samoan chief and former Wallaby Barry Lea delivering the Welcome To Country will feature at the Reds v Melbourne Rebels match on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium.

It’s a round of the season where we can learn a little bit more about the cultures that make up rugby whether it’s on the field, in the coaches’ box or fans in the stands.

There are 13 or more cultural backgrounds represented in the Queensland Reds squad alone from Durban-born co-captain Liam Wright to Indigenous winger-fullback Floyd Aubrey, a young Wakka Wakka man from Murgon.

“Culture…it’s first and foremost. It’s the foundation of who I am as a person. I take a lot of lessons from my grandparents and parents and instil them into my son each day,” Fa’agase said.

“I’m a proud Samoan man, a proud Queenslander and a proud Australian.

“I represent both cultures the best way I can.

“The tattoo on my back represents exactly who I am. I even go as far as having my postcode and the area I’m from tattooed on me.”

It was his late mother Salani, who taught him sacrifice and priorities. She would tackle the long drive from Logan so he could play for the Beaudesert Warriors as a kid on Saturdays because the Sundays of the Brisbane competition clashed with church.

Rugby fans will also know that the cultural make-up of Super Rugby never stands still.

In 1996, there were just four Pacific islanders in starting positions for Australia's three teams when the competition was born...Jacob Rauluni (Reds), Daniel Manu (Waratahs) and Ipolito Fenukitau and Elisi Vunipola (both Brumbies). 

Today, more than 40 per cent of the players across Australia's Super Rugby sides have Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, Papua New Guinean, Niuean, Cook Islands, Maori or Indigenous heritage. 

There’s another culture that this round represents. It’s team culture because melding together players from so many different backgrounds into one is a skill of coaching beyond whether you can catch or pass.

The language of Reds head coach Les Kiss always has a united tone. “Always us” is one of his regular touchstones.  

“One of the best things that Les has brought is making players feel they don’t have to be anyone else but themselves,” Fa’agase said.

“I know I’m trying to be the best version every day. There have been massive changes culturally at Ballymore since I first played for the Reds (in 2015).”

Whatever your take on Cultural Round, it’s a worthy and unifying way to celebrate your own culture and understand more about others.

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