The Rugby Australia Building at Moore Park may have opened last year, but that doesn’t mean UTS is new to the game. Australian Rugby Sevens stars Ben O’Donnell, Brandon Quinn and Boyd Killingworth reveal what it’s like studying at UTS and how the ARDC is helping the team (which includes both Ben and Boyd) go for gold at this month’s Commonwealth Games.
I’ve been playing rugby since I was five, back when it was essentially just a pile of kids vaguely running after a ball. But rugby was always in the blood. I had cousins who played Rugby Sevens for New Zealand and I remember watching them when I was growing up and thinking, ‘That looks like fun. I want to do that’.
I picked up Sevens because of Uni Games – the annual national intervarsity competition, known officially as Australian University Games. The only choices for rugby were touch and Sevens and after playing a season in Spain, I was keen to play with a bunch of mates. And the team was really good, too. But I quickly fell in love with the game. Compared to XVs Rugby, there’s a lot more space, a lot more tries and lot more one-on-ones, which I really like.
I actually got to play with Brandon’s brother, Kurtis, on that team before I played with Brandon! That year we beat Sydney Uni in the final after losing to them in pool play, which was a great feeling. Uni Games is such an amazing combination of elite competition and meeting and socialising with athletes from all over the country; it’s a must-do for any student I reckon. And all three of us have won gold with UTS at Uni Games now, which is pretty cool.
I’m in my second year of sport and exercise management. Balancing rugby and my studies is really tough, but the Elite Athlete Program team at UTS helps me a lot. The Australian Sevens squad train four days a week – it’s basically a full-time job – so all my classes have to fit into one day. Luckily, I can train and study here at the Rugby Australia Building in Moore Park. My weekends are either taken up by tournaments or studying – sometimes both! It’s hard work but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Brandon and Boyd have been around the traps but I’ve only really gotten to know them properly since I joined the Australian squad. I made my debut for Australia in late 2017 in Dubai and it was a crazy transition. At an international level, the pace is so fast and the speed of the players is unbelievable. But even when it’s hard, the boys are great. They really make you feel part of the team and now I’d count these guys as some of my best mates.
I’d been playing Rugby XVs for more than a decade before I started Sevens. Everyone gets a bit of a shock when they make the switch, I think. The biggest thing is how fit you need to be. Even though the games are shorter, you have twice the field to cover and the pace of the game is relentless.
As a result, our coaches really put us though our paces at training. Mondays and Fridays are a lot of running and mid-week we have what we call our ‘trade days’. Our coach came up with the name because we’re essentially tradesmen and our ball skills, structures and technical movements are our tools. We’re always working to perfect and expand on our toolkit. Plus, I think a few of the blokes on the team like to think of themselves as handymen!
We mix it up a fair bit too, try to make full use of the UTS facilities and what’s around. We’ve done sand dune sprints at Palm Beach, swimming and rowing challenges and been in the environmental laboratory here at Moore Park doing bicycle workouts in 35 to 40 degree heat.
Our coaches really get us prepared for anything. Rehab, rest and recovery is a huge part of it too. And it’s not just stretching – it includes everything from ice baths to anti-gravity treadmills and trampolining. The facilities here at Moore Park make a lot of things possible.
I did the same degree as Ben, although I was studying at the old Kuring-gai campus. It wasn’t too far away from where I grew up in Turramurra and from where I played a lot of rugby. Our 2013 Uni Games team was amazing. We had a Wallaby and a lot of guys like Boyd and myself who would go on to represent Australia, so it was a pretty special experience. Getting to play high-level rugby with your mates is one of the things that really drives you as a player.
It’s a pretty full-on calendar for us this year, especially with the Commonwealth Games in April. We started training in August and the World Cup is in July, but the Comm Games is the one we’re all focusing on.
It’s always fun to play in front of a big audience. I think the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of was in Hong Kong in a sold-out stadium of 40,000. We always acknowledge the crowd, maybe make a few jokes about it in the locker room beforehand, but once you’re on the field, you block it out as best you can. It’s just about getting the job done.
With only 12 on a tournament team and more than 20 on the squad, you always have the younger guys, like Brandon and Ben, nipping at your heels, pushing you to be better. But I love the challenge.
Playing as much as we do can definitely take a physical toll. There are usually at least two serious knee injuries per season across the competition and we’ve all had various hamstring, quad and tendon tears. We have great staff who look after us though and it definitely helps to have a degree in human movement from UTS, so I know what’s going on a bit better.
Eventually, I want to use what I studied at UTS and what I’ve learned through my career to teach physical education at a high school or be involved as part of a sports program at a school. I love the idea of giving back to young athletes who are going to be the next generation of sports stars.
Find out more about our UTS athletes at the Commonwealth Games with this handy guide.