Robbie Abel, James Dargaville and Matt Sandell have seen their off-field achievements dominate the headlines today, with academic excellence and community service coming to the fore at the annual Volvo-RUPA Awards Lunch at The Ivy in Sydney.
Abel and Sandell were adjudged the joint winners of the Community Service Award, while Dargaville won the Academic Achievement Award. These two awards recognise the importance of pursuing excellence off the field as well as on it.
“It’s great to see Australia’s professional Rugby players putting so much time and energy into both their own personal development, and also giving back to the community,” RUPA Chief Executive Ross Xenos said.
“James, Robbie and Matt have all invested significantly in their personal development away from Rugby in 2017, and on behalf of the players I want to commend them and all of the other finalists for this approach.
“Establishing an identity that’s separate to what you do on the field through education is so important, as is selflessness when promoting the game we all love, using your profile to build awareness for worthy causes and dedicating time for those in need.”
Having a pursuit away from Rugby, and giving back to the community, are considered key pillars of the RUPA Player Development Program (PDP), which is rolled out nation-wide and implemented locally by full-time RUPA staff (Player Development Managers) embedded within everybody professional program in Australia.
Academic Achievement Award:
In 2017, James Dargaville completed his Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree at Sydney University, a particularly huge achievement given it was a face-to-face degree and James has been based in Canberra since signing for the Brumbies in 2015.
James consistently obtained excellent results in a degree which is accepted as one of the more challenging, whilst maintaining a regular place in the Brumbies’ team as they won the Australian conference. James is to be congratulated for his determination, perseverance and ability to negotiate a way around his study difficulties with his university.
The award’s previous winners are Ben Daley (2015), Matt Hodgson (2011), Tom Kingston (2013), Pat McCabe (2012), Alicia Quirk (2016) and Jeremy Tilse (2014).
The other finalists in 2017 were Emilee Cherry, Tom English, Dane Haylett-Petty and Dom Shipperley.
Community Service Award:
28-year-old Brumbies hooker Robbie Abel consistently displayed his selflessness and desire to be a positive influence on his team, his Club and his community in 2017. During the Super Rugby pre-season and competition proper, he contributes at least ten hours per week to voluntary work, and this increases dramatically during the National Rugby Championship (NRC) season with its schedule allowing for greater flexibility.
In addition to his Brumbies appearances, every week Robbie contributed a large amount of his time away from Rugby to a wide range of voluntary work with disadvantaged young people and their families. With his Indigenous and Pasifika heritage, a significant amount of his work is with people from these backgrounds although people from a range of cultures have been assisted by Robbie.
With the time he donates, Robbie conducts coaching clinics, fitness and health programs, one-on-one and group mentoring, family support, school visits and camps, and counselling. Robbie has also been nominated for NAIDOC Person of the Year and Sportsperson of the Year in the 2017 Canberra and District NAIDOC Awards.
Meanwhile, for a young man determined to make his Super Rugby debut, a second successive season-ending knee injury represents a most unfortunate and unwanted setback. This was the fate that befell young Waratahs front rower Matt Sandell in 2017, and while obviously disappointed to receive the diagnosis the Mudgee product took it in his stride and resolved himself to instead contributing to the team and the Club by helping grow and promote Rugby and the Waratahs throughout the state.
Matt attended 19 events on behalf of the Waratahs and completed a staggering 59 hours’ worth of appearances for the Waratahs. Matt was also the Under 13’s skills coach at St Joseph’s College and made himself available to assist with his junior club in Mudgee whenever he returned home to see his family.
Matt presented the RUPA Medal, on behalf of all of Australia’s professional players, to the Best on Ground in the Final of the 2017 Australian Schoolboys Championships, and also undertook initial facilitator training as part of the partnership between Australian Rugby and Our Watch, an organisation that has been established to drive nation-wide change in the culture, behaviours and attitudes that underpin and create violence against women and their children.
The award’s previous winners are Eddie Aholelei (2012), Matt Hodgson (2016), Pat Leafa (2013), Patrick McCutcheon & Henry Speight (2014), David Pocock (2011) and Paddy Ryan (2015).
The other finalists in 2017 were Richard Hardwick, Mahalia Murphy and James Slipper.