Rugby Late Starters and Bloomers

In recent years, professional sports people are often thought to be titans that seem to be training even before they begin walking. Many videos on different social media platforms show toddlers and tots shooting hoops, shadow boxing or putting like mini-versions of Stephen Curry, Manny Pacquaio and Tiger Woods. Some youngsters are being prospected by clubs and retail companies when they are still in primary school and commercial as well as professional contracts worth millions are already waiting for some of them even before they finish high school.

The same can be seen in Rugby, especially in established countries such as New Zealand and England, where governing bodies invest into grassroots, junior level development of the game. Kudos to those who introduce and grow our inclusive game within a nurturing environment that is founded in the Rugby values, but thumbs up to all the late starters and late bloomers in the game, who have worked hard and shown us all that it’s never too late to play Rugby.

  1. Chris Latham – Australia: Chris Latham’s first game of choice was football (soccer) and he did not play a game of Rugby until he was 18 years old. Little could anyone predict that when a friend dragged him to Randwick Rugby Club to have a run, that he would be playing for Waratahs soon after and then move on to a brilliant professional career with the Queensland Reds. Just one year into his professional career, he was named in the Wallabies Spring Tour squad, making his Test debut against France. Latham would go on to win an unprecedented four Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year awards and score 40 tries in 78 Tests, second only to David Campese.
  2. Luke Romano – New Zealand: All Black lock Luke Romano did play Rugby at high school – one with a tradition of producing All Blacks – Christchurch Boys’. However, Romano only played in the school’s Third XVs and by his own admission, he struggled to do even one chin-up at the ripe age of 23. Two years later, he made his Super Rugby debut with the Crusaders franchise and went on to be selected as part of the 2015 World Cup winning All Black squad. A great example of loyalty, Romano has played for the Crusaders since the beginning of his professional career until now.
  3. Innokenty Zykov – Russia: Having been an athlete albeit in the very different sport of wrestling, this 195 centimeter, 124-kilogram tight head prop made the switch to Rugby at the age of 31 years old! Playing for Russian club Enisei STM Rugby Club, he has stepped up and adapted quickly, earning more than 20 caps for Russia since 2012.
  4. Jerome Thion – France: At 41 years old, Thion still plies his trade as a hard-working lock to this day with Biarritz Olympique Club and he has also been capped 54 times with France where he has scored five points. Thion played basketball at Entente Osny Cergy Pontoise and Pau-Orthez clubs before switching to Rugby at AS Monterrand at the age of 22. A star of France’s winning 2006 Six Nations Championship, Thion switched codes late enough in life that under the current regulations of the LNR which operates France’s professional Rugby Union, he does not qualify as a “France-developed” player.
  5. Tom Court – Ireland: Australian-born Tom Court has intimated that he began playing Rugby at University of Queensland to lose weight. He had already been the Australian Universities shotput champion three years in a row and quickly made his impact on the game, earning contracts from Queensland Reds, Ulster and London Irish. He has earned 32 appearances for Ireland, qualifying from his grandfather who was born in County Limerick.
  6. Thierry Dusautoir – France: A chemical engineer, Captain of one of the world’s best teams and overall machine at flanker, Dusautoir did not start playing Rugby until he was 16. His favourite sport when he was younger was judo. Granted that he did sign his first professional contract with Bordeaux at the relatively young age of 20, Dusautoir is a living-legend that proves that it is never too late to start playing Rugby.
  7. Mark Cueto – England: Taking a hiatus from Rugby between the traditional development age of 10 to 17, Cueto only made his professional debut with the Sale Sharks at the age of 22. Having represented England in the 2000-2001 international Sevens Series, Cueto eventually played 55 games for the English XVs side, scoring 100 points. He is currently second leading try scorer in the Aviva Championship.

At what age did you start playing Rugby?

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