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Don’t look now Israel Folau … Gay rugby players living their best life in Sydney

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It would be hard to pick the Sydney Convicts from any other of the city’s suburban rugby union teams.

They play serious rugby, train twice a week, heckle from the sidelines, and participate in ‘boat races’ – a post-match duel against the opposing team to determine who can scull cans of beer the fastest.

From the outside, they are an unremarkable team. But peel back the club’s facade and you find something different: an inclusive, welcoming and tightknit community known as the Convicts, Australia’s first gay rugby union team.

“It’s a safe space that has given me the opportunity to play team sport, that’s something I never thought I’d ever do in my life,” says Convicts player and Aboriginal man Will Cooper, wearing the team’s blue and white striped jersey.

(L-R) Sydney Convicts’ players Lachlan McGregor, Will Cooper, Xander Turnbull, Declan Murtagh, a player unknown and Jack MacPherson celebrate victory as they sing the club song ‘Those magnificent men from the Convicts’ in Woollahra, Sydney, on June 24, 2023. Picture: Aston Brown/AFP

When Cooper moved to Sydney from regional Australia in his mid-twenties, he’d never played team sport or held a rugby ball. Five seasons after a rash decision to show up at training in 2019, and Cooper is back-up for the club’s first grade team as prop.

“It’s the community that keeps me coming back. It’s people that are all united by their experience of being gay and their love for rugby,” he says.

The architect behind the Convicts, Andrew ‘Fuzz’ Purchas, founded the club in 2004 after playing in a gay team in the US.

“It was always about providing a community, a home, and the opportunity to play rugby, regardless of their standard,” he says.

“We have always made sure to help players improve on the field and be better people off it.”

Weeks after Purchas started the team, Gus Donald –- now the oldest player in the team at 47 –- saw an ad for the Convicts in a gay magazine.

Like many other gay players, the club was a lifeline that reinvigorated a passion for rugby that had waned after he finished high school.

“There’s a lot of boys that were in my situation, where they loved playing rugby at school but after school they went to their local club and felt threatened and marginalised,” Donald says.

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“Our eventual goal is to not need a club, but until all gay men feel accepted at their local club we will be here.”

Australia have twice won the World Cup, in 1991 and 1999, and last reached the final in 2015 when they lost to New Zealand at Twickenham.

Their preparation has been difficult for this edition with new coach Eddie Jones still trying to find his best team.

The Wallabies, captained by giant lock Will Skelton, open their Pool C matches against Georgia in Paris on September 9 before taking on Fiji, Wales and Portugal.

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France, Agence France-Presse asked 20 aspiring photographers from each country qualified for the competition to show one aspect of the rugby union culture in their homeland, with the help of Canon cameras who are sponsoring the tournament. From Namibia to Fiji via Georgia and Scotland this photo essay gives us a glimpse of the core values of rugby on five continents.

AFP

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