Late in 2003 the Sydney Convicts’ first advertisements for players brought five replies. Last year the Convicts were undefeated champions in the Halligan Cup.

This year they are again doing well in the Halligan competition and have added a Jeffreys Cup team, one division above. They have a permanent coach, a permanent fundraising program and have won permanent respect in the local Rugby Union world.

You may know these boys for their other talents, like creative Mardi Gras parade entries, the closing show in the 2005 Sleaze Ball, running trivia nights or the Rugger Bugger Full Monty-inspired fundraising shows.

They sure have some diverse skills, but on dusty, unforgiving turf they like doing what is most important to them, producing their personal bests in a rugby game.

An honest approach to the game has won Convicts support since the beginning. Woollahra Colleagues RFC, based in Rose Bay, has been in existence for over 60 years.

Andrew Fuzz Purchas, founder and president of Woollahra Colleagues, persuaded the club, which plays up to nine grades in the straight and traditional world of Rugby Union, to accept the fledgling gay team and to help with kit, playing fields, insurance, coaching and all important competition.

After some trial games with the Colleagues the Convicts played their first away match at Campbelltown. Feeling raw and nervous they nevertheless took their team spirit onto the field, and won.

From that beginning they reached the semi-final of the 2004 Bingham Cup in London but went down 6-3 to San Francisco, the eventual winners. Back in Australia the enthusiasm was only slightly blunted by the loss and the club has gained strength ever since.

For one team member James, who lived in Brisbane, Convicts was such a magnet that he commuted twice just to play.

In Brisbane it seemed there was a lack of interested players and I wanted to continue to play rugby so I emailed the Convicts and told them I wanted to play in the Bingham Cup, James says,

Fortunately for James his employer offered him a position in Sydney and he has moved here. The training is hard, he says, but we’re going to win.

When the Convicts challenged for the second Bingham cup in 2004, the club had existed for only five months. They are determined this year’s contest in New York will have a better result.

For every member of the squad, training on Thursday and Sunday is compulsory. No show, no go. There have been no defaulters.

Fuzz is proud of the progress the club has made. He played rugby between the ages of five and 27. Not long before Mark Bingham’s tragic and heroic death in a 9/11 plane crash, he encouraged Fuzz back into the game.

After 9/11 the first Bingham cup gay Rugby Union tournament was held in 2002 hosted by San Francisco Fog, Bingham’s home team.

This year Fuzz leads his teams into New York. I didn’t really get the gay rugby thing, Fuzz says.

It seemed people were more into being rugby players rather than wanting to play rugby. The first Bingham Cup tournament changed his views. It was about providing a sport for gay men to play.

This was the attitude he brought back to Australia and the Sydney Convicts. The club’s members understand the traditions of the game and the team spirit to be maintained in activities off as well as on the field.

Fuzz has been the driving force in the club since its inception but he is quick to point out that a strong, active and enthusiastic committee has been a vital part of the success, which he attributes to three factors.

We are a rugby club first, our players just happen to be gay. We have a broad cross-section of people who have connections in many fields. Our committee and many other people are doing a lot of work; it’s not all down to one person.

The hard and tough attitude shows in the approach to selecting the Bingham Cup squad. Every player wanting to compete had to make the commitment to participate even though final selection wouldn’t take place until two weeks before the event.

The process has produced two really tough teams, a coach and support staff totalling about 50 who will make the journey. Add the partners and supporters and New York will need to be ready for a determined Australian invasion.

The Australian Consulate in New York will be hosting a reception in the Convicts’ honour and they’ll be competing with about 40 other teams. They have worked hard in matches, in training, in fundraising and in building a fantastic esprit de corps.

Opening night for the Bingham Cup is 25 May. You can add your encouragement by visiting the Sydney Convicts website and becoming a supporter.

If you like these boys for their other talents, get along to Rugger Bugger IV: Rucked Up at the Midnight Shift this Saturday 6 May -“ be there before 11pm to catch the show.

You will be encouraging Australia’s first gay Rugby Union club and the Convicts will be sure to show you a good time.

Email for information.

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