Scott Fardy takes the long way round to reach the top
Australian is well travelled but has made himself right at home with Leinster
“To come home from winning a final and be able to play Munster in front of our home crowd at the RDS is something that not many teams get a chance to do.”
Leinster’s Scott Fardy celebrates winning the Champions Cup: Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Scott Fardy has travelled a circuitous and lengthy route to being a World Cup finalist and European Cup winner. From Sydney and the Waratahs academy, to a year in Perth and three years in Japan, he didn’t make his Super Rugby debut until he was 27 and his Wallabies debut until he was 29.
He subsequently went on to play almost 100 games for the Brumbies and 39 Tests for Australia, before becoming a key figure in Leinster’s climb to the summit of European rugby. Hence, Fardy has often been described as a late bloomer or late developer, but that’s not a description he himself subscribes to.
“People say that a lot, but I don’t think that was the case. I just didn’t get a shot. People often say to me, ‘Oh, you were a late developer.’ I just think that sometimes you don’t get the opportunity. I don’t actually think I was a late developer. I was already well and truly developed, I just didn’t get the chance to play, and once I did get the chance to play then it worked from there.”
Not that he has any regrets about the manner his career panned out, including that stint in Japan and his fruitful time in Australia, to which can now be added a particularly momentous year in his life.
Michael Cheika maintains that all the foreign players and coaches who have pitched up at Leinster have enjoyed a life-enhancing experience and Fardy concurs. “I’ll always be blue now, I guess. I’ll always be a Leinster man. I’m very appreciative that I got the opportunity to play alongside the players here.”
Fardy is a European Cup winner in his first season, missing their opening win against Montpellier as his wife Penelope was giving birth to their first child, August, in Holles Street on the day of the game. “He was born 12 minutes before kick-off,” recalls Fardy.
But he has been integral ever since. Leinster’s best days have usually come with the infusion of an experienced overseas lock, such as Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn, and Fardy can now be placed in that exalted company. Granted, having made 15 of his 19 Leinster starts in the secondrow, he then switched seamlessly to the backrow for the European knockout wins over Saracens, Scarlets and Racing 92.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” says Fardy, of the move. “I hang in the wide channels anyway regardless of what number I’ve got on my back. Sometimes the ball comes to you, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Key evidence of that came in Leinster’s response to falling behind in the last 10 minutes in Bilbao when Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Dan Leavy worked some space for Fardy to make one of the game’s rare line breaks, with Jamison Gibson-Park running one of his trademark support trailers on Fardy’s inside. “It was one of the few breaks in the game really. Credit to Racing, they stopped us from playing our brand of rugby.”
While sharing the prevailing “air of disappointment” that they didn’t play what he calls ‘Leinster rugby’, Fardy has no qualms about admitting that last Saturday was the best day of his career. “The plane trip home with the boys was amazing. It was a good, fun trip home. That relief when the drop goal (by Remi Tales) missed the posts and knowing we’d got it was a huge moment in my career. It’s probably the best moment in my career to be fair.”
Fardy was one of those on the charge attempting to block the drop goal attempt. “I think I was pretty useless up there,” he says, in typically self-effacing manner. “I don’t think I had any real effect. We had to go for it but I think Jack Conan and James Ryan had more of an influence than I did.”
Fardy was always destined to play rugby, as his father, Denis, who worked for the state government, and both of his older brothers, Adam and Kim, did so. “My father played rugby league growing up, like a good Catholic boy, like they do in Australia, and then fell in love with rugby union at university. There was a rugby field directly below our house, so we kind of grew up with it.”
Denis and Heather brought up three boys and younger sister Lisa in Newport, on the northern beaches of Sydney. “It’s right on the coast. It’s idyllic.” Fardy began playing with Newport Dolphins when he was six and then with Warringah. He was good enough to play for New South Wales underage sides and was brought into the Waratahs academy, albeit at the age of 22, before moving to Perth for a year in 2008.
He didn’t play a game with the Western Force and accepted an offer to play in Japan with Kamaishi Seawaves. “I suppose I had a spirit of adventure, to go and live in a different country. I’m glad I did. It was a great experience.
“It was a totally different culture from what I grew up with. The people of Japan are very friendly and I think it will be a fantastic World Cup next year. People who go there will really enjoy it, and the food is top notch. I can still speak a little bit of Japanese, but I’m losing it every day that I’m here,” he says, laughing.
In his third year in Kamaishi, Fardy was in his apartment in March 2011 when the tsunami hit. It destroyed half of the small village, with friends of Fardy among the fatalities. Rather than take up the Australian embassy’s offer to evacuate, Fardy and some teammates opted to stay and help the locals whose lives had been shattered.
“There were a lot of people who suffered in the tragedy and I wasn’t one of them. I just did what anyone would do. I was just there at the time and made a decision.”
Laurie Fisher then signed him for the Brumbies and Fardy returned to Australia in late 2011 for pre-season. “Laurie and Jake White were there at the time, and Stephen Larkham as well. I thoroughly enjoyed myself there and I’m grateful for the opportunities I was given in Australia as well. They took a punt on me and I guess it paid off for both parties.”
Fardy quickly became a regular, with the Brumbies topping the Australian Conference before beating the Cheetahs in the Super Rugby quarter-finals and the Bulls in Pretoria in the semi-finals after a six-day turnaround. The Brumbies then travelled to New Zealand to play the defending champions, the Chiefs, in the final in Hamilton, and led 22-12 after an hour before losing 27-22.
Fardy’s form was such that in August 2013, Ewen McKenzie gave him his Test debut as a late replacement in the 47-29 defeat at home to the All Blacks in Sydney, with all his family in attendance
“It wasn’t something I thought I’d be able to do. I thought that ship had sailed in my career and that I wasn’t going to be that kind of player. I was genuinely surprised when I got the call-up. It still came as a shock when I actually got the chance to run out there. Yeah, it was a huge honour, but we got well and truly beaten and I only got about two minutes at the end of the game.”
He quickly established himself in the Wallabies’ backrow though, and on the ensuing November tour Fardy was part of an Australian team that beat Ireland 32-15, with Rob Kearney, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Seán Cronin, Jack McGrath and Robbie Henshaw (all teammates last week) in opposition.
“Yeah, I like the Aviva,” says Fardy with a chuckle, having also been on the winning side with Leinster there three times this season. “I think that was actually one of the best Wallabies performances I was a part of.”
Fardy reckons he was away from home for about six months in 2015 when he was a mainstay of the Australia team that reached the World Cup final, playing in every game bar the pool win over Uruguay.
“Yeah, and I felt it by the end,” he jokes. “But that’s what you want to do in a World Cup, you want to play in them all. Beating the home nation at Twickenham was pretty massive, and the boys that I played with, it was a special time in my career.”
After their defence kept an inventive Argentina side try-less in the semi-final, the Wallabies then had a six-day turnaround before losing the final to New Zealand. “That came around really quick. A World Cup campaign is tough on the body and that certainly was. We lost two key players early on,” he says, in reference to Kane Douglas and Matt Giteau, “but you can’t give a team like the All Blacks a lead like we did in that game.
“Obviously it was a great experience getting all the way to the final, but it’s a disappointing way to end. You do plan to win these things, to go home with the trophy. It didn’t work out for us but I understood the journey we had, and we beat some great teams in the lead-up to that game.”
Coupled with his experience of being on the losing side in the 2013 Super Rugby final, it added to his sense of sheer relief when winning a final a week ago.
As well as being durable and tough, a key figure in Leinster’s defensive maul, and good on the ball, Fardy is a fierce competitor according to Cheika. “Well, he did coach me,” says the 33-year-old Fardy, who describes his Wallabies coach as a great motivator. “I love the competitive element of rugby. I guess if you weren’t competitive you wouldn’t be playing at my age, would you?”
Now comes the chance to reach another final.
“To come home from winning a final and be able to play Munster in front of our home crowd at the RDS is something that not many teams get a chance to do. It is special. These games are always pretty intense, and the weather is looking pretty nice, so it should be free-flowing.”