From Canada to New Zealand: Playing Rugby Abroad in Taranaki Part 1
[ed. Noah will send updates every 2 weeks so check back to read the complete series.]
by Noah Bain
Hello to whomever is reading this. Thanks for tuning in to BC Rugby News and thanks to Mark for reaching out.
As a short introduction, my name is Noah Bain and I am from Abbotsford, British Columbia. After graduating from the University of Victoria last year and finishing 2nd place at the CUMRC’s (Canadian University Championships), I was lucky to be involved with the Men’s 7’s program for a short stint. Following this, I moved to Vancouver to progress my career and joined the UBCOB Ravens Rugby Club (fitting as a UVic Alumnus, I know). During this past season, I was contacted by Sean White, Interim Head Coach of Canada 7’s, who introduced me to the wonderful David Jackson (Jacko), who resides on the East Coast in Halifax. Jacko is from New Zealand and presented me with the opportunity to join a Premier side in New Plymouth, Taranaki.
As a young Canadian rugby player who wishes to play and compete at the highest level, with a dream of playing overseas for as long as I can remember, this was something I wanted to pursue with hopes of developing my game for future possible professional opportunities whether it be Bunnings NPC, MLR, 7’s, or elsewhere. This goal of mine, along with the ability to travel before I have some real responsibilities, I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass. I was fortunate that my day job is worldwide and eligible to transfer my position over (but work here in NZ is abundant for all skills, we will get to that in due time).
Moving forward - I consulted further with Jacko, acquired my Working Holiday Visa, packed my bags, said goodbyes, and upon wrapping up the BCRU season, I headed over to New Zealand and now reside in New Plymouth, Taranaki, playing for the Spotswood United Rugby and Sports Club. I aspire to push for a spot within the Yarrows Taranaki Bulls setup, develop my skills in a completely different rugby brand, and gain some life experience along the way.
The task of leaving all your family, friends, significant others, and whoever or whatever it might be in Canada to play in a different continent was not an easy decision, but so far has been worth it. These articles are meant to help inform BC rugby players, young or old, who aspire coming to NZ or travel anywhere internationally to play rugby. I am still settling in, only on week 2, but will do my best to keep readers updated along my journey! It is good to get uncomfortable occasionally. A wise man and close friend of mine once gave me the advice to “play as much rugby as you can because you never know what can happen.” Physically you can only play so long, and you also never know what opportunities may arise, so I am taking that advice, running with it, and playing as much rugby as I possibly can.
Starting the journey off, I am joined by a few other Canadians here in Taranaki with some similar aspirations. (Side note, I believe there are 2 other boys in the South Island, we are in the North) 3 of us are playing for Spotswood United, and 2 others are playing for the New Plymouth Old Boys. Spotswood currently sits at the bottom of the table after Round 1 and NPOB sits at the top - go figure. The Premier season here works with 8 teams in two rounds. After Round 1 lasting 7 games, the points get halved and makes it more attainable for the bottom teams to push for a playoff spot in Round 2. Our hope for the boys coming in is to provide our Spotswood guys a Canadian spark and push for a top 4 spot heading into the end of the season. The 3 of us arrived late due to our BC club duties. Back-to-back 15’s seasons with no rest is a bit hard on the body, but it is what it is in this circumstance, and we'll take this opportunity full on.
We arrived on Wednesday, May 3rd at 8:30am after 15 hours of travel. The club president was super welcoming along with one of the other team members, who is from Scotland and doing something like what we are. They showed us around New Plymouth and helped us settle into our accommodation. Some culture shock to start, they drive on the left-hand side of the road here, which messes with the brain a bit, so being jet lagged and driving in was a bit disorienting along with trying to stay social and keep conversation with people you’ve never met. We got unpacked, cleaned up, got some lunch, and headed to the gym. Spotswood trains at Redemption Gym which is an awesome facility run by Josh Cooper. He also trains the Taranaki pro basketball team. After the gym, we did a grocery run and I tried the iconic NZ chocolate milk from Pak N’ Save - it is worth all the hype. Groceries are a little different from back home so beware, not bad different, but just different and I can’t really describe it, just feels a little off. No, I have not tried a meat pie yet. After fighting jet lag for as long as possible, I eventually dozed off and we headed into Thursday.
We spent most of the day sorting out getting a phone and bank account set up, along with other logistic life things. Fun fact - rent is paid weekly here. Thursday was also our first day of training, and I don’t know if it was just being jet lagged along with other factors but wow this one hit hard. One of the most noticeable differences in playing style and training between Canada and New Zealand is the intensity and speed of the game. The Kiwis have a deep-rooted rugby culture that emphasizes speed, agility, and quick thinking on the field. The game in Canada is more physical and relies heavily on strength and power. In New Zealand the game is more about skill and precision, which makes it both challenging and exciting. This was reflected in the first practice. In the backs specifically, the moves were still expansive despite the weather conditions. In BC we would say the cliché “tighten it up as the ball is slippery yaddy yaddy yada.” Not here, we were still ripping tight wide spin passes in the pouring rain and playing with speed and it was so fun. I really enjoyed myself at training and felt I could hang. I was just a little gassed from travel.
Fast forward to Saturday for our first game day and I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect (also still quite jet-lagged). Our home field is Yarrows Stadium which is regarded as one of the best fields in the country and uses the same turf grass blend that they do at Twickenham. This was an amazing debut experience starting on the right wing and you can watch the game online. We lost the game by one point on a last minute try from Inglewood that came from a controversial quick tap in my opinion. Another fun fact, our ref this game was the first women referee for a Taranaki Premier game and was also Canadian! She reffed well, however, did not provide us any Canadian favours in the end.
In the club rooms after I noticed an outstanding similarity between Canada and New Zealand rugby which is the passion for the game. Rugby is not just a sport but a way of life in both countries. The camaraderie and brotherhood that come with being a rugby player are universal, and it is evident in the way players treat each other on and off the field. The rugby community here is very tight just like it is back home, and this was reassuring to see. The only thing was that there were no boat races for men of the match - ha-ha. Still an awesome feed though, and everyone dressed up in their “number ones” which is essentially a club shirt and tie.
As a member of Spotswood, I am getting the opportunity to play with some of the most talented players in Taranaki. Yesterday (which is Saturday the 13th for me), I got to play with current Chiefs Super Rugby, former All Black, and fellow Fijian Pita Gus Sowakula. We played Clifton, who boasted last weekend's Chiefs man of the match Daniel Rona at 13. Clifton did a number on us, and you can watch this game as well online, but the experience to play with Super Rugby guys and just see where my personal skills need to be at was an amazing experience.
Aside from rugby, settling into New Plymouth has been an exciting adventure. The town is beautiful, with stunning beaches, parks, and beautiful Mount Taranaki. The locals are friendly and welcoming, and they have made the transition to living in a new country much more comfortable. I didn’t touch on this earlier, but it is Autumn here and believe it or not (so far), it rains more here than in Vancouver. I did not think that was possible.
Of course, there are some differences in culture and lifestyle between Canada and New Zealand that took some getting used to. For instance, driving on the left side of the road and adapting to the Kiwi slang is taking some time. Examples: “Chur”, “Yarn”, “Far out”, their own version of “eh”, LOTS of “bro”, “that’s us”, and the list goes on. However, with an open mind and a willingness to learn, settling in is relatively easy and I will update you on slang meanings as I keep learning.
In conclusion, for any Canadian rugby player considering coming to New Zealand to play or travel abroad, I would highly recommend it and I’m only two weeks in. The experience of playing in a different country and learning a new playing style is both challenging and rewarding. The rugby culture in New Zealand is second to none, and the opportunity to develop your skills as a player is unparalleled. Don't be afraid to take the leap and embark on an adventure of a lifetime if this sounds like something you’re keen to do. Thanks to everyone who believed in me and has helped me get to this point in using rugby as a vehicle, especially my mom, my family, Lauren, Noah, Braedan, the Thiel’s, Aaron, Whitey, Jacko, the UBCOB Ravens, and Spotswood.
I’ll keep you updated on details around how the team is going, what the Bulls pathway is like, work life balance, more rugby, etc. as time goes on and I settle in more. Wrapping this up, hopefully we can get Spotswood some wins moving forward. Next up is our rival Tukapa. Thanks for your time and see you soon! Follow Americas Rugby Management, @arm_rugby on IG as well for updates from Jacko. Peace out!