How Fountain Gate Secondary College became a rugby school

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Whether those interviewers were picturing him coaching Billy Slater or David Campese is unknown as Orange soon learned that in Victoria, rugby league and rugby union are “interchangeable terms”.

Mentor: Jimmy Orange puts his teams through their paces. Photo: Joe Armao

Mentor: Jimmy Orange puts his teams through their paces. Photo: Joe Armao

Photo: Joe Armao

But as he walked through the school yard he picked up the scent of the sport he loved. After locally-born students, Fountain Gate’s next biggest groups are Polynesian and Afghani students.

In a school of around 1200 students there are about 64 languages spoken and that doesn’t include sporting ones.

Centred around Narre Warren in Melbourne’s outer south-east, Fountain Gate is growing fast as nearby housing estates fill with families.

In New Zealand, rugby is the nation’s game and the heart of almost every school’s sporting program, it’s so popular schools field multiple teams and for the most part playing the game at school is free.

At his new school, Orange realised the potential.

While he wasn’t planning to produce future internationals, he did see a way for rugby to possibly turn some wayward kids towards tertiary education or the sports industry.

“I started putting my hand up to coach some school rugby and a year or so later we won a state championship,” Orange said.

“It was our first state championship in any sport at our school. Then the soccer goals got pulled down and the rugby posts went up.”

In 2015, youth mentor Chris Aho suggested Orange setup a rugby academy. Back then he was still a science teacher who coached rugby “at lunchtime and after school”.

“There wasn’t a model to run it off, there was just an idea that this could be engaging,” Orange recalled.

So he designed a program which could fit into the school’s schedule and after solving all the logistical problems was able to start up the academy.

There is a selection process where students apply and interview for a place. Those who made it had to keep attending class and getting good marks.

Orange started with year nine and 10 students with current Wallabies under-20 lock Trevor Hosea one of those year-10 players. This year he played in the under-20 Rugby World Cup in France and is on the Melbourne Rebels list.

“It helped push me to improve myself and gave me opportunities to take my rugby career further,” Hosea said.

He is one now a role model current members look up to and regularly returns to the school.

The academy has grown each year and now includes “pre-academy” groups in year seven and eight plus academy groups in years 9-12.

There are around 100 students in the program and the split between boys and girls is almost 50-50.

The students do skill and fitness training together, class work together and then train in their gender teams for the contact sessions.

The girls play rugby sevens or tens as their are not enough players at other schools for full rugby games.Orange is working towards introducing 15-player rugby.

Until this year no other Victorian school had a rugby union academy but a couple of schools are nowstarting their own programs.

The Melbourne Rebels offered some support in the early years and their logo was on team uniforms but this year they entered into a full agreement where Rebels coaches come to the school.

Most importantly the program has engaged some of the school most difficult students.

“The pattern prior to the academy, especially for our Maori or Pacifica students, we were seeing a lot of them leave early and opt out of VCE to go somewhere else,” Orange said.

“Some of these kids will be the first in their family to go through to university and that is already starting to happen with some of our year 12 kids from last year.

“We had school refusers who didn’t want to come to school, then we offered them places in the academy and all of a sudden they started turning up to school in their uniform ready to go.

“The retention, especially the Polynesian kids, is massive and there are so many more floating around in year 12 than there used to be.”

Year 11 student Justin Iaulualo admits he may not be at school without the rugby program.

“I never had anything like this,” Iaulualo said.

Rugby is one of the connections between young men like Iaulualo, who has already played for Victoria, and the strands of his family background.

“That Polynesian background, rugby is the main sport for our people. My family is Samoan but I was born in New Zealand so I’m a proud Samoan-Kiwi and an Australian too,” Iaulualo said with a grin.

“My parents were excited because they knew if I had rugby at school then it would be something I would look forward to and not wake up all depressed about coming. I would have a reason to come to school.”

The academy has given him some prospective beyond just chasing his footy dreams.

“My main goal is to become a professional rugby player but if that doesn’t work out then I want to surround myself within sport,” he said.



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