A trend in New Zealand rugby these days is for players to cash in on their careers in overseas competitions. Former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil Evan Rees may not be playing professional rugby, but he has laced up his boots in six different countries and is aiming for more. Working as a nurse in Melbourne at present, Rees chats to Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson.
Q Hi Evan, tell me a bit about yourself.
I am from Auckland, but Dad was a naval captain so travelled a lot and we eventually found ourselves in Beijing. Dad wanted me to get a New Zealand education so we looked for good boarding schools in New Zealand and Waitaki Boys’ came at the top of the list. The time I was there, and in Oamaru, was unreal and I made some lifelong mates. The North Otago rugby culture really got me interested in rugby and I started playing in year 10, a bit behind everyone else. Things like the Blood Match, which we would always make the trek back for at university, and North Otago always punching above its weight in the Heartland competition are things that made me realise I wanted rugby to be in my life indefinitely.
Q What have you done since you finished your nursing qualifications?
Since leaving university, I have lived in China, Thailand, Australia and Finland. I have been lucky enough to play rugby in all those countries as well as in Vietnam. I have worked a variety of jobs along the way, such as teaching, administration, sports facility management, event promotion and my career job of nursing.
Q What is the Seagulls Rugby Football Club and where did the idea come from?
It came out of a bad joke by Oamaruvian Finn Bloxsom. While we were watching a game in Dunedin his theory was that the seagulls on a rugby pitch constantly disrupted the play because they felt they were under-represented and wanted a team. From there, the idea grew and we realised we had a pretty solid team among our mates who wanted to play some fun social footy, so we gave it a crack.
Q What games and tournaments has the team played in?
After starting in the Dunedin social competition, we’ve played in 10s tournaments in Bangkok and Saigon. We are planning trips to Indonesia and China for tournaments and a game against the Mongolian national team. In a lot of ways we have only just started. The long-term plan is to turn it into an overseas trip focused around a rugby tournament.
Q What have the highlights of those been?
Just seeing the dream come true and playing footy surrounded by your best mates. Also seeing the boys not care how good they are at rugby, just as long as they go out there and play with all their heart while wearing the jersey.
Q You have quite a few Oamaru lads in there, is it a good way of having a catch-up?
The heart of the team comes from brotherhood and so it’s only natural that your oldest mates will be there. Quite a few of us Oamaru guys are overseas, some even playing rugby as well, so it’s hard to get time to see one or two, let alone the whole gang. Forming a reunion around an activity like rugby really gets people involved and excited to get amongst it.
Q What is it like playing rugby in different cultures – has it lead to some funny moments on the footy field?
I have noticed a few differences, but generally the world culture of rugby flows throughout. I feel most of the world is based around European rugby with its terms and style of play. A few moments I remember are messaging guys back home talking about 30degC summers while I am heading off to -20decC outdoor practices with the snow falling around me. If you left your water on the sideline it froze before you could drink it. At the other end of that, in the height of summer in South East Asia the air is like soup. It is sticky hot and you are just constantly taking in water only to sweat it out in a matter of minutes. I remember my first practice in Finland, I went in some off-brand running shorts and an old hoodie, as you would before heading to practice back home. I turned up and everyone is in fresh training skins and new team apparel, with no-one out of line. They looked at me as if I had no idea how to play or even what game I was playing, but by the end of practice I think I had earned their respect and shown them that it is not just what you wear that matters on the field.
Q What sort of nursing do you do and has that been a good job to travel with?
I am a surgical/high dependency unit-trained nurse, but I have also run rest-homes at times. It has been okay to travel with so far, but it does have a few limitations in some countries.
Q Do you make it back to Oamaru at all?
While I was at university, I would come back often and did some of my nursing placements in the area. More recently I have been overseas so have not been able to visit as much as I would like. I don’t have any family in the area, but the people are so welcoming. I know a handful of families I could pop in on and be welcomed at a minute’s notice.