Attacking Mental Health Head-On

By Tim Felton
F –

In recent years, the issues surrounding player welfare, particularly mental health, has rightly become an area demanding increasing attention.

In recent weeks, former Welsh number-eight Andy Powell has courageously detailed his battle with mental health, revealing how it played a significant role in his premature retirement from international rugby. Despite media releases and press conferences that suggested his retirement was caused by long-term injuries, it came out later, that indeed he had been battling mental health demons for a significant period of time.


It says something about our society that an athlete still feels the need to lie about his, or her, mental health, predominantly out of the fear of being stigmatised, being perceived as weak, or being dished up further online ‘trolling’ from those who wouldn’t have the first clue about dealing with mental health concerns.

One does not need to look too far to realise that mental health battles are not merely confined to one particular footballing code, or one particular sport. Australian Rules’ Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin is just one of a number of his code’s stars to come out in recent years to reveal struggles with mental illness, joining the likes of Collingwood’s Harry O’Brien. So too have Darius Boyd in the National Rugby League, as well as numerous examples in the American sporting landscape.


Why is this case? Is it a sudden surge in mental health problems, or has it always been prevalent, but only now coming to the forefront of the public’s attention, mainly through athletes having the bravery and courage to speak out?

Many professional athletes are paid a great deal of money to do what many in the greater population consider their childhood dreams. How hard can it be, right? Train, play sport, recover. Repeat.

Sounds like a dream….if only it were that simple.

Professional sport can have its pitfalls. An inordinate amount of “down time”, as well as the pressure to succeed can weigh heavily on the mind of an athlete. The pressures of the general public, in addition to any level of self-doubt can be significantly impactful.

Add to that the role social media can play in allowing online bullies and trolls access to their targets, throwing insults behind the veil of anonymity that the internet provides, throwing insults that they would never have the bravery to say to someone’s face.

The problem is this – professional sport is exactly that – professional. In simple terms, it is partly a business. How exactly do you balance the competing interests of organisations, whose desire is more often than not to win competitions and produce excellent on-field results, with the interests and wellbeing of the individuals who are under their employment? There’s little doubt that this presents complex issues for all involved.

It is often the welfare of the athlete – the emotional well-being – can come last. Let’s face it, there is a proportion of the sport-loving population that don’t particularly care about whether the players on their national team are emotionally stable and healthy, as long as they perform on the field.

I’d like to think it is a minority, but one quick glance back to social media feeds during the trials of Buddy Franklin would indicate otherwise. We still live in a society plagued by stigmatising those with any kind of vulnerability, particularly mental health. It disgusts me, to be perfectly honest.

So how do we address this issue?

Should it be merely up to players’ associations, as well as the individual athlete’s support networks to provide the necessary assistance in the most crucial moments? Surely, the burden lies with everyone, particularly employers (both past and present), as well as the sport’s administrators at a larger, for example, national sporting bodies. If all these stakeholders were able to unite, arguably, the scourge of mental health might be able to be addressed in a more effective manner than it is at present.

Mental health is the one of, if not the, single biggest killer of men between the ages of 15-44 in many western countries around the world, particularly Australia, the United Kingdom and United States. If that statistic doesn’t shock you enough, consider the fact that one 2013 study found that former National Football League (NFL) players with significant concussion history are three times as likely to develop symptoms of depression as the general population in the United States. Statistics across other football codes, in general terms, would arguably be similar.


Sport – and all who love – share the responsibility to address the mental health problems facing our athletes.

If you or your team mates need someone to talk too, please contact:

Bouncing Back from Injury

Injury is part and parcel of being a professional athlete. The question is not if, but when.

Sooner or later, all athletes are going to hit an injury hurdle of some kind. That is inevitable. That said, the range and extent of the injuries can vary from a minor setback through to career-ending and, in some cases, life-changing.

As professionals, athletes are trained in learning how to recover and rehabilitate their body. If they’re lucky enough to be employed in a major sporting code, the progression from injury to returning to performance-level health might be plotted intricately for them.


That said, being employees of organisations, players are often ‘encouraged’ to see the club’s choice of surgeon, as well as the rehabilitation and recovery processes. The club is well within their rights to do this, as their primary concern is the physical wellbeing of their talented employees.

But what of their mental recovery and rehabilitation? What, if any, role does the holistic recovery have in this process?

Added to this in the modern world, where sport is a global business, is how best to cope when playing and living in a foreign country. Not only might athletes live away doctors and health care systems that are foreign to them, but language barriers may exist, only compounding anxiety surrounding the said injury. It’s not just the players, but their partners, families and wider networks that are affected too. Shouldn’t consideration be given to these areas too?


Being away from their partners, children and teammates, the complex emotions felt in recovering from, particularly, long-term injuries can be very challenging for athletes. Add to that the constant concern surrounding contract renewals that are an ever-present part of a professional athlete’s life. An injury at the wrong time can have devastating consequences.

Many elite athletes have an existence that creates, mainly through the influence of media and social media, a direct correlation between their on-field performances and their feelings of self-worth. If we accept that this is an inescapable truth, then how best do we prepare athletes to cope with setbacks, be they short-term or long-term?

The Wharton School of Business, in the United States, estimates that the average lifespan of an NFL career is 3.5 years. The average. I don’t doubt that Rugby Union, Soccer and other sports would be similar in their statistics regarding career expectancy. The reality is that not everyone can be a Lionel Messi, Tom Brady or Richie McCaw. Arguably, preparing athletes for career transition is equally important and effective coping mechanisms for injuries.


Pat McCabe, renowned for his incredible on-field toughness, had his career cut short by Injuries. Pat has successfully transition to post-playing career and is now a practising solicitor.

The burden of assisting athletes through the various stages of injury, not only with the physical but also the mental side of recovery, rests with all stakeholders – arguably employees most of all. Players associations, employers, as well as the athlete themselves and their support networks, all have a role to play in the successful handling of injuries.

Post by Tim Felton

It’s 5pm some where….

G’day Guys,

Well, it’s 5pm somewhere so time to relax and reflect… Welcome to my first column here for you on Sporple.

Every couple of weeks, I’ll be updating you with what’s going on in my life both on and off the field. Whether it’s what’s going with my time in Toulon, showing you the hotspots of Europe in my travels, or just banter with some mates, I look forward to sharing a little bit of my world with you.

Being lucky enough to do what I love for a living, in one of the best locations imaginable, is bloody fantastic. So I’ve just returned back to Toulon after a frustrating time in Australia. It was great to catch up with mates, share some beers and soak up the Aussie sun. Getting back amongst the Wallabies setup with Cheik and the boys was really enjoyable. Unfortunately, things didn’t go my way, as I struggled to recover from niggling injuries. I guess everything is a learning opportunity, isn’t it?


Playing in France has given the chance to meet so many great people, as well as play with and against some of the greatest players to play the game, but there’s nothing quite like being in your hometown, with the people that know you best. What beats a beer at Bondi, right?

Now I’m back in France, I’m pumped to get back on the field and help Toulon achieve our goals for the season ahead… But first it time to get my body back in fighting condition.


Till next time,

Sporple chats with former Wallaby and current Top 14 star Nic White

Take a listen to our chat with former Wallaby and current Montpellier Star Nic White.

In this chat we discuss
– The motivations to move to France
– How Nic got his break into professional rugby
– Why it’s different for country player to move into professional ranks
– How Nic’s parents helped guide his career
– The close relationship Nic has with Stepehen Larkim and Julian Huxley and why the mentorship from older players is so valuable
– And…. is the door ever closed for a return to Super Rugby and the Wallabies?


A big thank you to Nic from the Sporple team for all your help!

Team @ Sporple

Playing Rugby Abroad

By Mike Donlan

There is no better experience for a young rugby player than packing his bags for pastures new in a foreign land.

The chance to experience a new lifestyle, culture, language and style of rugby can shape you as a person, not just a player.

Drew Mitchell Enjoying Life in Toulon.

As a student back in 2010, yours truly decided it was time for such an enriching experience.

I was an Erasmus student heading to the picturesque town of Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, and as a national league player in the UK I had ambitions to play rugby at a high level.

I left it with my coach to help me find a club as he claimed to have a bulging contacts book, I never saw that contacts book – maybe his ego ate it.

Anyway, I soon realised I was going to have to find a club myself which meant putting the first two years of my French degree to use – considering my first two years consisted of playing rugby, chinning pints and dodging lectures, this proved to be quite challenging initially.

My first thought was to try Marseille who had a certain Jonah Lomu on their teamsheet, and in a slightly masochistic way, the chance to claim fame by being turned into a doormat like Mike Catt in 1995 was just too irresistible.

rugby Marseille Vitrolles Rugby / US Montmélianaise le 22 novembre 2009 in Vitrolles - France Jonah Lomu ©Sébastien Boué

Marseille Vitrolles Rugby / US Montmélianaise
le 22 novembre 2009 in Vitrolles – France
Jonah Lomu
©Sébastien Boué

Unfortunately that twisted fantasy never materialised into anything substantial – it turned that they didn’t need another average back row – but my fishing line finally got a nibble when I contacted Pays d’Aix (now Provence Rugby) who were a Pro D2 side.


Provence Rugby Club Recruiting on Sporple

In the end, I played for their u21 and u23 sides competing against some of the top teams in France in those age groups, including the likes of Toulon, Montpelier and Perpignan.

I have plenty of amusing anecdotes from that year which I won’t bore you with, but my point from all this was that even just six years ago, the challenge of finding a club abroad was daunting for any young, ambitious rugby player.

That’s why a platform like Sporple is so important, what I would have given to have the chance to showcase my talent to agents and clubs in France on such a user-friendly platform, who knows what opportunities could have come my way!

Young South African flanker Devon van Dyk is someone who has enjoyed the benefits of Sporple taking away the initial pain of trying to get your name into the open.


“I think Sporple gives you the opportunity to play abroad”, he said.

“It gave me the opportunity to put everything I’ve done out there on the web, they’ve given me hope in making my dreams come true one day .

“I’ve seen sites for rugby players to put up videos, but of all the sites I’ve tried Sporple is the best, I get to showcase myself to the world ”.

Get signed up today, and kick start your route to playing in different parts of the world.

Check out Devon Van Dyk’s Sporple Profile


Top 5 moments of Rugby World Cup 2015


1. Japan beating South Africa

There have been a few Rugby World Cup upsets over the years, but none quite like that day in Brighton. How many of you based in the UK who got tickets for that match in the ballot either missed it “because Japan will get pumped”, or decided to go in the end just for the hell of it? Either way, it’s the sort of decision you’ll look back on for years, as will Eddie Jones’ side who bravely decided to go for the corner and were rewarded with a win against the two-time winners.


2. Craig Joubert

A bit of a negative choice some of you might say, but it was a huge talking point. Craig Joubert legging it from Twickenham after a controversial decision saw Australia squeak past Scotland in their quarter-final. Some people say he’s still running!


3. Lineoutgate

Nothing says scandal like putting ‘gate’ at the end of a word. England fans look away: There’s just a few minutes remaining, you’ve just let the local rivals comeback from the dead to lead, you have the option to go for the posts and draw the game which probably would be enough to get through the group so you go for the corner. Then the brains trust in the front five think it’s a good idea to throw to the front, you get pushed into touch…let’s leave it there.


4. All Blacks demolishing France

Own up, who thought there was a potential for an upset because it was France against New Zealand in a world cup? What unfolded was more one sided than a brick against a window, and in Julien Savea’s case the brick went through several windows.


5. Argentina…Diego Maradona

Perhaps the greatest footballer ever and he’s somehow made the Sporple top five moments of the Rugby World Cup, that’s how influential he is. As in 2007, Argentina lit up the competition in 2015, but this time it was their running rugby which took centre stage, not the ‘blitzkrieg’ that rattled everyone eight years before that and what a sight it was to see the man who played the game beautifully with the round ball celebrating with the team in the changing room after who had played the game beautifully with the oval ball.


Americas Pacific Challenge

Ottawa, Canada- With the November test window quickly approaching, the Select sides for both Canada and the United States have been given a golden opportunity to make an impact, and possibly be selected for their main national teams. On September 7, World Rugby announced the schedule for the Americas Pacific Challenge 2016, which is designed as a new ‘A’ team tournament that is founded by the game’s governing body and looks to increase the visibility of the game in the Americas.

The first event will be taking place from October 8 – 16 in Montevideo, Uruguay, and will feature two teams each from the Pacific Islands, North America and South America. Pool A will feature the Argentina XV, USA Selects and Samoa A. While in Pool B the Fiji Warriors, Canada A and Uruguay A will face off in a round-robin, first past the post-tournament format across three rounds. With the winner and final rankings determined through a total amount of competition points accrued across the three rounds.


The host nation’s President Sebastian Pineyrua noted that “The APC will be a great chance for Uruguay to continue developing rugby in the country. The six-team tournament is an exciting challenge, not only for our players, but also for our rugby community.

“This competition for our A team, outside the international window, will help prepare new players and it’s another step to ensure strong competition for tier-two unions. We’d like to thank World Rugby for this great opportunity.”
While, World Rugby Vice-Chairman Agustin Pichot is quoted today.” “The Americas Pacific Challenge is part of World Rugby’s strategy to enhance the performance pathway for tier-two teams in a Rugby World Cup cycle.


“With teams already preparing for Rugby World Cup 2019 as well as the upcoming November test schedule, the APC will give teams an opportunity to bring through young players and give competitive game time to players who want to step up to the next level.

“With the buzz from rugby still resonating after the Olympics in Rio, this gives us another opportunity to bring international tournaments to the region and really grow the game in South America.”


On the Senior Men’s National team front, November test trial dates continue to trickle in from both the United States and Canada. The United States will be facing the Maori All Blacks at Toyota Park in Chicago on November 4. We are still waiting for the rest of their November test matches to be announced, but we would assume they will be staying stateside for it. While for Canada, they have announced two test matches. The first being on November 12, where they will be travelling to Dublin to take on Ireland, which is one of the first tier A matches for the Canadians in nearly a decade. As well, Rugby Canada announced they will be taking on Samoa in Grenoble, France on November 25. Both Canada and the United States look to start to climb back up the World Rankings after seeing the United States and Canada remain at 17 and 18 respectfully after the summer test series.


What’s next for ProRugby?

Ottawa, Canada- Professional rugby, it is a reality here in North America, and no you are not dreaming.


Pro Rugby has just wrapped up its inaugural season in the United States, and there are some amazing possibilities for this up and coming league. Unlike most start-ups, this league did not go after the large television contract, nor did it rely on traditional media, Pro Rugby instead went after the streaming audience. With a connection to the fans, Pro Rugby has seen its stalk grow, and the union game looks to be here to stay on the North American market for good.
The league had a lot of interest from north of the border, as well as from foreign investors but after much consideration, Pro Rugby’s initial season started with five teams. Denver, Sacramento, San Francisco, Ohio and San Diego laid the groundwork, and had a very successful season. Many American and Canadian international players found a home closer to home, and overall the facilities as well as the level of play has been at the elite level that one would find in most European cities in a tier II market.

There was a large question when it came to pro rugby, would they get the gate to make the league profitable. The average gate for the league was 1723 per game, and this for a league without traditional media ads or buy in to promote it over the local airways. The high point for the season was 3400 fans that came out to the final between Denver and Ohio that tied the Sacramento and San Francisco game on opening weekend. Although league officials were hoping for around 3000 people per game, they stated they were happy with the overall results for the first season.
The question now is what is next for this start up league. You have seen interest grow in the game due to Olympic exposure, the American Eagle tour, as well as the Canadian Summer Series, and this league is looking to capitalise on this. However, we have seen rumours of Super 12 looking at North American expansion as well Toulon announced during its first press conference of the year its want to develop a professional league based in the US, with a team in Miami owned by the team. These are all threats to Pro Rugby, and it will be interesting to see where this league can go.

©PHOTOPQR/LA PROVENCE/VALLAURI Nicolas ; TOULON LE 09/04/2013 -  Mourad Boudjellal président du Rubgy Club Toulonnais (RCT)

TOULON LE 09/04/2013 –
Mourad Boudjellal président du Rubgy Club Toulonnais (RCT)

Time will only tell, but the team at Pro Rugby have been looking at expansion to Canada and the Eastern US as a possibility, and with the offseason upon us, expect some big announcements coming up. Rugby Canada has already said they will be interested in putting a team in Vancouver, and possibly Toronto. With Pro Rugby already looking at the addition of 4 or 5 teams on the East Coast, we could be seeing the start of a North American Pro Rugby League, and that is something we have been waiting for. For North American rugby fans, it could not be a better place to be and to be witnessing the growth of the game from a niche sport to something that could start to break down the traditional North American sporting landscape. We might even see Pro Rugby here in North America on Fox Sports, or even ESPN, time will only tell. However, the league looks to be stable and growing, and that is enough to hope for in a league entering its second season to be happy about, and the fans ecstatic to see where it goes.

Premiership Rugby/ Pro 12 foreign recruits weekend ratings

JP Pietersen

JP Pietersen (Leicester Tigers)

Another experienced Springbok now plying his trade in England. Again, not spectacular but still had an impact on the game scoring a try, and always seemed to do the right thing. Is sure to have a big season at Welford Road. What a game this was by the way!

Watch highlights of Gloucester v Leicester Tigers here

Sporple rating 7/10

Schalk Burger (Saracens)

Solid start to life in the Premiership for the Springbok bruiser. Nothing spectacular, but a try, cut to the head and plenty of industry from the flanker during Saracens’ 35-3 win against Worcester. Sarries will need to manage how much he plays if they’re to get the best out of him this season.

Watch highlights of Saracens v Worcester Warriors here

Sporple rating 7/10

Toby Faletau (Bath)

Nightmare start for the Wales and Lions number eight who hobbled off injured after just 12 minutes with medial knee ligament damage, which could see him miss the autumn internationals.


Sporple rating N/A

Louis Picamoles (Northampton Saints)

The odd nice touch from the France number eight, but otherwise had a quiet game against Bath. The same could probably be said for most of his teammates until the final ten minutes. The worrying thing for Saints fans is that Picamoles can be unstoppable if the game comes to him, but if it doesn’t he can be frustratingly anonymous.

Watch highlights from Northampton Saints v Bath here

Sporple rating 5/10

Charles Piutau (Ulster)

Belfast , Ireland - 26 August 2016; Charles Piutau of Ulster during the Pre-Season Friendly game between Ulster and Northampton Saints at Kingspan Stadium, in Ravenhill Park Belfast. (Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Belfast , Ireland – 26 August 2016; Charles Piutau of Ulster during the Pre-Season Friendly game between Ulster and Northampton Saints at Kingspan Stadium, in Ravenhill Park Belfast. (Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Solid start to life in the Pro 12 for one of the Premiership’s top performers. Set up a try, but had a quiet game by his own ridiculously high standards. Still, expect the All Black to light up the league this season.

Watch highlights from Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons here
Sporple rating 7/10

WOLFPACK – Canadian Rugby League!

Toronto, Canada- It has been an amazing year for rugby in the Great White North with the success of the Canada Sevens in March, a bronze medal for the Canadian Woman’s Sevens in Rio and the highly attended summer series for the Senior Men, rugby seems to be gaining a foothold with Canadians. On the back of these successes, the newest Canadian rugby club the Toronto Wolfpack is looking to make its own waves on the Canadian rugby landscape. Earlier this year, the club announced it was successful in its bid to become the first transnational professional franchise in North America and is joining the Kingston Press League 1, the third tier of the English Rugby League.


The Wolfpack look to continue the success seen from the Canadian Rugby League fan base and although the union game has seen a recent rise in popularity, the ownership group in Toronto feels the league will captivate the North American market. The club’s CEO Eric Perez noted at a recent press conference that; “Toronto is a city ready to embrace the first transatlantic sports team, and we’re proud to be behind it. We have a consortium of very successful businessmen and we’ve set up platforms of exposure for sponsorship that will ensure the team is well-backed and well-funded.” The team will also be responsible to cover their oppositions travel costs, which was built into the expansion agreement reached between the anonymous ownership group in Toronto and the British Rugby League.

It was later released that the Toronto based team had attempted to join the premiership of Rugby League, but was instructed by the British Rugby League Union that they would have to work their way up like any professional club. With the end goal of a premiership club, Toronto has looked to some of the top names in Great Britain, and has recruited former Great Britain coach Brian Noble to act as director of rugby, and former Leigh coach Paul Rowley as the clubs first head coach. Noble knows the unique challenge that this club will face; “It’s brand new – I’ve done a lot of things in the game but to be involved in this and to take something from nowhere is exciting.” He continued and noted the need for Canadian talent; “It’s important to have homegrown flavour. The immediate goal is winning but we’ll be spending a month here to ensure we find the top athletes this country is producing: there will be North American roots.”

Recruitment has begun for the newly formed club, and with a focus on homegrown talent, the Wolfpack have set up open tryouts here in North America. Stopping in eight cities; the Wolfpack will begin in Vancouver on August 28, and then make stops in; Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal and finally Toronto. They have already heard from over 4000 interested players, and with international signings trickling in, these tryouts will showcase the talent across North America.


The Wolfpack have already started a drive for season tickets, and will be playing out of Lamport Stadium in Toronto for its inaugural year. Perez has their sights set for BMO Field in the club’s future, but that will only be possible with a winning team, and a solid fan base to justify the move to the top of the line facility that currently hosts the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC, as well as plays host to a number of Rugby Canada matches over the year. With the offseason approaching, the Wolfpack will look to make an impact in their first year; with a solid coaching staff, experienced internationals, and a crop of young eager Canadians, the first transatlantic sports franchise in the history of professional sports could be making a splash on both sides of the Atlantic in 2017.