Playing rugby with former Wallabies and learning about mental health have been the highlights of Leading Seaman Aircraft Technician Avionics Alex Wilson’s tour of Argentina and New Zealand with the Australian Stockman Rugby Union.
Leading Seaman Wilson was one of 26 players from remote, rural and regional competitions who were selected to travel with the team that emerged from the tour in early November with four wins from five matches.
Stockman Rugby is an initiative that uses rugby union tours to offer personal and athletic development for players.
The tighthead prop said the initiative educated players about the wider effects of suicide, depression and substance abuse in order to promote personal development through a constructive rugby culture and international engagement.
“It was a great tour to be a part of as player, but also personally through being exposed to people with stories about how they dealt with depression, suicide and mental illness which I have been very fortunate to have not encountered in my life,” he said.
“With a deployment to the Middle East coming up soon in HMAS Ballarat, and also being part of the Navy community, it has opened my eyes to looking out for those risks in myself and others.
“The open forums were great to learn about coping mechanisms and risk factors of mental health.”
The team was coached by former Wallaby, Chris Roche, with Leading Seaman Wilson saying he had learned a lot from his team mentor and also playing alongside former Wallabies forward Guy Shepherdson.
“I subbed on for him [Shepherdson] early in the second game because of an injury and then I started the final three games,” he said.
“It was a great tour, the rugby was competitive and the tour focused not only on performing on the field, but also in personal development.
“Being able to be coached by a former Wallaby, and play alongside one, as well as a couple of Super Rugby veterans was pretty awesome.
“I’m pretty keen to take what I have learned back to Royal Australian Navy Rugby Union for the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Championships next year.”
Leading Seaman Wilson said the playing side of the tour had been a highlight of his sporting career which has also included representing Navy since 2011 and as tighthead prop for New South Wales Country in 2016.
“I was also fortunate to be awarded man-of-the-match in the final game and was nominated for best forward and player on the rise from the tour.
“It was a great experience and I would especially like to thank the support from my Commanding Officer on Ballarat and the Flight Commander who gave me permission to play on the international stage – I know I can bring things back to Navy that will help in my workplace.”
The Stockman team started the tour in New Zealand in late October with wins against Papakura Rugby Club in Auckland (36-19) and Auckland Police (27-17), two matches that set the tone for the tour.
“We heard the Auckland Police team would be tough but what we didn’t know was that they had two current Samoan Sevens players a number of Mitre 10 Cup players and former professionals.”
The tour moved to Mendoza on 31 October for a 33-17 win over Los Tordos Rugby Football Club, a 62-0 victory over Athletico Del Rosario in Rosario on 3 November and capped off the five-game tour with a 24-15 loss to Banco Nacion in Buenos Aires on 7 November.