To perform well in the National Rugby Championship (NRC) is no easy feat.
A domestic series which preludes the internationally regarded Super Rugby (SR) competition, the NRC hosts talented contracted rugby players who want to prepare for the next SR season or amateurs who are looking to land a coveted roster spot in one of the four Australian SR clubs.
With so many players vying to show their skills, it’s what makes Melbourne Rising star Tom English’s achievement in the Victorian side’s round three win over the Sydney Rays extra special.
Playing in a wing position, English scored an all-time competition record of five tries in the Rising’s 62-7 annihilation of the Rays.
Having recorded something no other player has done before, most would be more than happy for English to soak up some of the well-earned limelight.
However, the 28-year-old remains humble in recollecting his effort, choosing to praise his teammates around him for doing the grunt work and allowing him to score instead.
“It’s great to perform well at something that is your job, but I think it’s made a hell of a lot easier by the people around you,” English told upstart.
“To have people like Bill Meakes, up-and-coming number 10 Archie King and up-and-coming 13 Sione Tuipulotu, it makes my job easier.
“I enjoy putting on performances like that, but I can’t take credit for it all because there’s a lot of young guys in that team who have really stepped up and put the ball in my hands, because all I’m doing is being out on the wing waiting for it.”
English is no stranger to Australian rugby, having already carved out an 80-game career with the Melbourne Rebels.
Originally from Sydney, he played rugby league in his early childhood and didn’t find the game of rugby union until he enrolled at the prestigious Waverley College for year 7 in 2001.
Progressing through the rigours of high school, it became apparent that he couldn’t manage playing both sports, which meant he had to choose between the two.
“At the time, I juggled both on the weekends. As I got older, I had to make a decision and that decision ended up being rugby union,” he said.
“I then found myself getting offered a scholarship at Sydney University and that’s how I ended up there studying and playing rugby.”
After plying his trade for Sydney University Rugby Club in the highly regarded Shute Shield, New South Wales’ premier rugby competition, English was selected in the Australian Rugby Sevens squad.
With national experience under his belt and impressive performances in a prestigious state league, he drew the attention of a recently formed Super Rugby franchise, the Melbourne Rebels.
English vividly remembers how nervous he was about the interest he received, as the Rebels wanted to recruit him at a time when he had suffered a serious ACL rupture.
“I’d hurt my knee, I’d just got a knee reconstruction and the Rebels were keen and then I thought they had gone a bit cold,” he said.
“Then I got a phone call saying can you come down, come check the facilities out and have a medical.
“I actually failed the medical, but the club decided to keep me on and invest in me, so for that I’ll be forever grateful and that’s why it’s been one of my priorities to stay down in Melbourne… because they’ve really showed faith in me and I’m just repaying that.”
Having lived in Sydney all his life, English then faced the fact of needing to uproot his whole life in New South Wales to live in a new state and city.
While most would expect him to have been tentative about the process, the now proud Melburnian says knowing former Sydney University players who had been at the Rebels for two years made his transition south smoother.
“I had a fair few friends down here already from Sydney Uni like Nic Stirzaker, Laurie Weeks and Lachie Mitchell who had all been through the Sydney Uni pathway, so there were a few familiar faces to make the transition easier,” he said.
English also paid tribute to his time in a national team program for making his adjustment to life as a Super Rugby player more seamless.
“I was lucky enough off the back off an Australian Sevens year that also made that transition a hell of a lot of easier… in terms of understanding what professionalism is and what you need to do to be a professional rugby player,” he said.
Having already marked himself as a champion of the Melbourne Rebels and the Melbourne Rising, the only accolade which has escaped English’s grasp is earning a Wallabies cap.
He is extremely close to achieving that feat, having recently captained The Australian Super Rugby Selection side against the Wallabies in trial match at Leichardt Oval in August.
He has been close before, joining Wallabies touring squads on several occasions during his career.
It’s why the Melbourne Rebels stalwart remains optimistic about his chances of playing for the green and gold in an international match.
“Representing your country is the pinnacle of your chosen sport, whatever that sport may be,” English said.
“Rugby, particularly in Australia, there are a lot of people competing for those spots… but it’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid.
“It’s been a tough journey and I haven’t closed the door on that yet, and if I ever got the opportunity to put on the green and gold, it’d be a pretty special moment for me and my family I’d say.”
Brynn O’Connor is a third year Bachelor of Media and Communications (Sports Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter @brynno97
Photo: Tom English By Naparrazi available here and used under a Creative Commons Attribution.