He’s best known for his rugby brains, Wallaby number 755. A former Brumbies player-turned commentator who has an innate ability to dissect the game, as he does on the panel and sideline each week with Fox Sports.
For Rod Kafer it’s a way to stick to the game he has always had a huge passion for, which may explain why he’s now been with Fox for 10 years, joining them back in 2005 after his professional days in rugby came to a close.
“I certainly enjoy being in and around the game still so I am very lucky to do what I do with Fox, working with incredibly good people, dealing with a good sport and good people who like rugby,” Kafe said.
“So from my perspective it does meet a lot of my needs, a lot of the things that I enjoy.”
For all his analysis of plays and players, a breakdown of his own career reveals some impressive data of its own.
Raised in Canberra, between 1991 and 2001 Kafe was a representative of ACT rugby, earning 37 caps for the Brumbies as the game turned from amateur to professional. During those years the Brumbies made it to three Super Rugby finals and recorded their first title win.
He earned 12 caps for the Wallabies within the glory days of 1999 and 2000. During those years Australia won back to back Bledisloe Cups, including what’s considered the greatest game ever played, and the 1999 Rugby World Cup victory.
Hanging up the boots in Australia to try his hand at rugby overseas, Kafe joined the Leicester Tigers, earning 34 caps for the side between 2001 and 2003. During those years the team, which included the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Lewis Moody and Captain Martin Johnson, won and then retained the Heineken Cup.
Kafe was the first, and one of only few players, to receive winning medals from major Southern and Northern Hemisphere rugby tournaments, later followed by Doug Howlett, Brad Thorn, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Matt Giteau.
Signing fan posters with Wallaby teammates Stephen Larkham and Jim Williams in 2000.
Kafe was also heavily involved in coaching, during his final years at the Brumbies and at Saracens, following his stint at Leicester, where he seized on the opportunity to take up a full-time role as Head Coach. A lucky break, and a chance to continue a career within the game, but like many professional career prospects, it was something that didn’t end up meeting his needs.
“I always thought coaching was a pathway because I was always heavily involved in the coaching side of things. I thought it was something that would therefore be a natural career choice.
“What I found though was that it was actually the antithesis of all the things I particularly enjoyed about rugby.
“I no longer had the things that I was passionate about in rugby, which I am very passionate about, so coaching didn’t fulfil that for me at the time,” Kafe said.
Off the field, and perhaps reflective of his technical mind, Kafe has owned and run two telecommunications businesses, the last of which he has just sold.
“I always had an interest in technology. I created, from scratch, a service provider business in telecommunications together with a partner and that’s effectively how it happened.
“There was no grand masterplan for it at all it was just something that grew after deciding to do it,” Kafe said.
Together with his role at Fox Sports, it’s been an effective way of balancing his on and off field interests.
Married for 15 years with three “healthy” kids, including two boys who currently play rugby and a daughter who plays netball, Kafe is about to re-embark on a career in rugby with an entirely new initiative.
“I’m just about to get back into rugby, which is going to be really exciting, creating a rugby institute here in Australia.
“After the sale of, and moving on from, the business I’ve been in, it’s something that I’m really passionate about.
“It will be called the Australian Institute of Rugby. It will provide students with a diploma in a couple of different areas, together with elite rugby skills and coaching for players between 16 and 24.
“It will be very much be built around an education platform for 16-24 year olds who might want an alternate pathway for education and who love their sport, and in particular, rugby.
“It’s about trying to create an education and a rugby pathway, not dissimilar to the player development model in RUPA.
“It’s certainly not designed to be an elite pathway at all, it’s a participation pathway with an education platform at its core."
His playing days may now be behind him, but his ongoing love for Australian rugby and examining the game remains.
“From a Wallabies perspective, we’ve got two competitions we play in really, one is every game we play against the All Blacks and then there’s every other Test match the Wallabies play.
“Then we move on to rest of the World. I see the All Blacks being the clear best in the world and then I see five or six teams, of which we’re one, being roughly about the same, which is healthy competition.
“The All Blacks have a tremendous side, a tremendous group pf players, incredibly difficult to play against and I think historically we continue to underperform against the All Blacks.
“Historically we’ve got a 27% win record against the All Blacks. Right at the moment, across the last 10 years, we’re sitting at about a 9 or 10% win record so we’re still underperforming.
“We need a massive investment in high performance at the national level to keep us on par with our competition. But the game hasn’t invested enough recently in the high performance of our Wallabies.
“Equally it would be fair to say, and many people do say, the game also hasn’t invested enough in grassroots rugby.
“That also may be a fair argument but, again if we talk about Wallaby performance, there’s a reason why we’re underperforming and it’s because five or six years ago we abandoned the high performance program in Australian rugby and it hasn’t adjusted since.”
Stay tuned as next month we bring you the second part of our catch up with Rod Kafer as the former RUPA President shares the experience and history of the game turning professional and the establishment of RUPA ahead of the upcoming 20 year anniversary in August.