Words by Tom Connor
Born in South Africa before moving to Auckland, he then travelled across the ditch to North Sydney and is now scouring the NSW Country side with the Eagles, his name is Sam Figg.
One of the most consistent performers of the NRC thus far, it’s been a long and unlikely journey that’s led to the 23-year-old to pulling on the Country gold jersey and optional Akubra to boot.
“The first time I got my hands on a rugby ball was when we lived in Auckland.
“We moved to Australia where I grew up in North Sydney and attended Barker College, which is where I really started honing my rugby skills” Figg recalls.
With the vast majority of aspiring rugby players opting to join a Shute Shield club following their school career, Figg went against the grain and played his first year out of school with the Barker Old boys in Sydney’s Suburban competition.
“Looking back it was probably the most fun I’ve had playing rugby, just a bunch of guys who played the game for all the right reasons” Figg said.
After a year of playing in the traditional red and navy of Barker, it became clear he was well above the standard of the second tier competition.
“The coach pulled me aside at the end of the season and told me I was wasting my time playing subbies and that I should be giving rugby a real crack.
“The coach was actually a Sydney University player but had heard a lot of positive things coming out of Northern Suburbs, so I gave them a ring to setup a meeting with Scott Fava and the rest is history” Figg said.
Wasting no time in making his name known to his Shoreman teammates, Figg was a standout performer for Norths Sevens over the course of the preseason.
So impressive was his form that Australian Sevens coach Michael O’Connor soon came knocking, and just like that the man known as ‘Figgie Smalls’ made his World Series debut in Tokyo in early 2013.
Leaving the Sevens program at the end of the year, he joined Shute Shield heavyweights Randwick and continued to develop as one of the premier Backrowers of the competition.
Everything seemed to be falling perfectly in to place, but rugby can be as cruel as it is generous.
Playing in a late season game for the Galloping Greens, Figg sustained a serious neck injury that saw him carried from the field on a stretcher and rushed to hospital.
“I thought that was the end of it. For a long period of time after that I was sure I was never going to play again.
“I saw three different doctors. The first of them said you’ll never play again. The second one said the same thing and persuaded me to focus on my studies and life outside of rugby.
“Finally the third doctor told me I could play again but it was on the proviso that I understood the potential risks and consequences of my decision.
“Obviously I went with the third doctor’s opinion and started a very long road to recovery” Figg said.
Recovering from a broken neck meant Figg would have to wait an extra year to make the Eagles No.8 jersey his own, but over the past five games he has done just that.
Sacrificing his income and taking time off from his job working as a business development manager for major statistics company ‘The State Master’, Figg says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Eagles are a little bit different to all the other NRC teams in the way we operate.
“We train during the day up at Moore Park using the Waratahs facilities.
“The program is almost identical to that of a professional rugby team, which is great because it gives the club boys a taste of what it’s like being a full time player” Figg said.
Add to that the hectic travel schedule and nomadic home games of the Eagles and you’ve got one of the most unique rugby teams in Australia.
“A lot of people view the travel schedule as a bad thing, seeing as we don’t have a singular home ground, but for us it’s actually a bit of a secret weapon.
“The culture of the group is immense, we all get along so well because we’re all constantly on the road together – it’s really brought us a lot closer as a team and there is no doubt that’s benefited us on the field” Figg continued.
So what does the future hold for Sam Figg?
“For me, playing rugby professionally has always been my dream. I got a small taste of it when I was playing Sevens but didn’t really get the complete chance I was chasing.
“Obviously I’d love to continue playing rugby in Australia, but as long as I’m in a professional environment where I can take my game to the next level then I don’t mind where that is” Figg said.
With an already lengthy resume to call upon, you wouldn’t bet against Figgie Smalls adding a few more big names to it in years to come.