Winning the RUPA Medal For Excellence will always mean a great deal to Wallaby #864 Nick Cummins, partly because it was so unexpected, but also because it signifies that he earnt the respect of the men that he was playing alongside.
That’s according to the man himself, who chatted to RUPA this week ahead of next Wednesday’s Volvo-RUPA Awards Luncheon where the 2018 RUPA Medal For Excellence will be presented alongside another seven awards.
“I had absolutely no idea that I would be in contention to win the Medal For Excellence; I was just trying to keep my head afloat,” Cummins explained.
“That’s probably why I did get it, ‘cos I hadn’t seen it coming and all I’d seen was the Gold jersey and pictured the desired result. To me, my job was just to wear the jersey and not let the boys down, and maybe that gave me the edge because I wasn’t over-thinking things or diverting my energy or focus elsewhere, it was all on the job at hand.”
Former Western Cummins was voted Australia’s best player by his peers in 2013 on the back of an outstanding season, with his form for the Wallabies as they won four of five matches on the Spring Tour particularly memorable.
A 2-1 series defeat to the British & Irish Lions earlier in the year had been followed by a tough Rugby Championship for the Wallabies, and when they began their Spring Tour with a 20-13 loss to England the public expectations for the remainder of the tour were not particularly high; not that the players saw it that way.
A 50-20 thrashing of Italy in Turin, with Cummins scoring a double, was followed by a 32-15 win over Ireland in Dublin, a tight 21-15 win over Scotland (where a number of Wallabies including Cummins were suspended) and a Quade Cooper-inspired masterclass in Cardiff as they concluded the tour with a 30-26 win.
“I remember that tour really well,” Cummins said. “We were under the pump a little bit from the media carrying on as they like to do back in Australia and we were a little under-gunned, but we went out there and got the bloody results Australia had been looking for. It really felt like we’d inspired a lot of young Aussies that wanted to be Wallabies when we got home.
“That tour for me was a banger, I played every game I was able to and I feel like I was playing good footy. There is nothing better than when you are at the top of your game and you’re just ready for the next one, and you just know you’re gonna crash over for a meaty more often than not.”
“In Italy, we played in the afternoon and I got a couple of meatys in a good win. I was presented with a medal after the game, and I had no idea what the bloke was saying but I knew it was a good thing, so I smiled and shook his hand, you beauty!
“The game against Ireland came on the back of an excellent little team bonding session on the Tuesday night, and we went out there and put a record score on them! I was suspended for the Scotland game, which was unfortunate, but all in all that tour was massive on so many fronts.”
With individual recognition well and truly off the radar, logistics came a cropper when it came to organising for Cummins to get to Sydney to receive the Medal during his holidays.
“I remember when they asked me to attend the RUPA Awards as a finalist, and I was over in Perth and had a trip planned around the bottom end of Australia and the Nullarbor, so I said I couldn’t make it across.
“And then RUPA called again and said that they really, really wanted me to come because I was right up there in the voting, and again I didn’t think I was going to win and I had been planning the trip for so long, so I politely declined. Finally, they told me I’d won it, but by then I was too far gone with my commitments to this trip and I couldn’t get over there!
“We organised for my old man fly down to Sydney from Brissy and accept it for me, he probably confused the hell out of everybody in his acceptance speech, but I truly had no idea I would get an award like that.
“It’s really something special when it is the guys you’re playing for, who you don’t want to let down, and who you want respect from, who actually voted for it and that’s why for me it holds a special place.
“Whatever the situation, any award absolutely means that much more when it’s voted on by your teammates. If you’re chosen for an award based on the people who see you every day and see the effort you put in, who know your intent and your passion for what you’re doing, that absolutely holds so much more value to me.”
The RUPA Medal for Excellence is the most prestigious player-voted honour in Australian Rugby, with the top two players in each Super Rugby team’s annual Players’ Player award automatically earning nomination as the eight finalists. Performances at any level can be used to influence players’ votes, with all 2018-contracted Super Rugby players invited to vote oln a 3-2-1 basis.
2018 sees Rory Arnold and David Pocock (Brumbies), Will Genia and Anaru Rangi (Rebels), Samu Kerevi and Taniela Tupou (Reds) and Israel Folau and Michael Hooper (NSW Waratahs) named as finalists, with Pocock the only previous winner amongst the group having saluted in 2010 and 2015; and his former Western Force teammate Cummins thinks he’ll be hard to beat again this time around.
“I reckon my top three would be Pocock, Kerevi and Hooper; I’ll say ‘Poey’ will take it out, the bastard’s got a cape and I reckon he takes it off before he comes to training; another outstanding year!”
The RUPA Medal For Excellence is one of eight major awards presented at the Volvo-RUPA Awards Luncheon on Wednesday December 12. Finalists for the Academic Achievement Award and Community Service Award will be announced later this week.
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Previous winners, RUPA Medal for Excellence:
- Berrick Barnes: 2009
- Brendan Cannon: 2003
- Nick Cummins: 2013
- George Gregan: 2001, 2004, 2006
- Christian Leali’ifano: 2016
- Isi Naisarani: 2017
- David Pocock: 2010, 2015
- James Slipper: 2014
- George Smith: 2007, 2008