The gigantic grins of the hundreds of kids at Endeavour Oval on Saturday was more than enough to tell anyone what the Classic Wallabies’ visit meant to the Orange and Central West rugby communities, but what could surprise is just how much it meant to the ex-Australian players too.
Here’s a pretty good example.
Justin Harrison, a veteran of 34 Tests and famous for that lineout steal in the deciding game of 2001’s series against the British and Irish Lions, flew all the way from France, where he’s based now, to play on the weekend – something he does as much as he can for the program.
“Absolutely,” the 44-year-old said, when asked if the clash with the Central West Barbarians’ was the main reason for his return to Australian shores.
“I’m back as much as I can be. I flew in Thursday, I [left] Monday.
“I grew up in the Northern Territory and was a country boy, went to Lismore Uni. Rural Australia has always been a strong passion for me and the Wallaby brand, so we’ve got to get out there and engage the kids and let them know we’re still here.
“It’s also a great opportunity for us (ex-players) to catch up and re-engage and check in with each other, see how we’re all doing.”
Harrison, a crowd favourite on Saturday afternoon, didn’t rack up too many minutes in the clash against the Central West Barbarians but, of course, that didn’t matter to him one iota.
Nor did the result, which was a 49-21 victory in favour of the Classic Wallabies.
“The game was great,” Harrison said, adding the quality of the Blue Bulls legends outfit impressed him too.
“I thought it was quite a high level. There wasn’t too many dropped balls (and it was) pretty entertaining, pretty high-scoring, which is what we like to see. And it was played in the right spirits as well.
“The level of performance wasn’t quite what it used to be but certainly everyone had a smile on their face.”
Harrison was particularly pleased with the turnout for the Classic Wallabies’ clinics, at Kinross on Friday and then at Endeavour Oval on Saturday – the latter of which welcomed a mammoth number of up-and-comers.
“We had about 300 kids here for three hours,” Harrison said.
“It’s all about community involvement and engaging. People talk about rugby but they don’t actually appreciate the fabric of it until they come to events like this.
“You’ve got all sorts of demographics and age groups. Rural Australia, we’re all part of one big family, top to bottom, bottom to top.
“It’s great to see some smiles on faces and see some old fans that used to watch me play, through to the next generation.”
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