Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Player leap Ditch for game time

Beau Robinson gets in some good quality rugby with Bay of Plenty. Photo / Getty Images
Beau Robinson gets in some good quality rugby with Bay of Plenty. Photo / Getty Images

Beau Robinson was meant to go hunting with his father during the Super 15 off-season.
Instead, the flanker is one of a handful of Australians who have invaded the ITM Cup, the 27-year-old landing at Bay of Plenty.

Robinson has been plagued by a stress fracture in his leg for the past year and made only seven appearances for the Reds this season.

Playing in New Zealand's provincial competition - something Australian rugby would love to replicate - has offered Robinson the chance to work his way back to full fitness.
"I was just looking forward to playing some good quality rugby," Robinson said.

Suiting up in the blue-and-gold hoops of Bay of Plenty was made possible when former Steamers midfielder and Australian international, Steve Kefu - who Robinson knows through their Brisbane club Souths - got in touch with the province.

"I was looking to actually go over to Thailand to do a bit of coaching for a new business that I'm looking to start," Robinson said of his off-season plans.

"And then I was also going to go ... hunting with the old man."

That father-son bonding will have to wait. Robinson, a one-test Wallaby in 2011, has been busy in an impressive Bay of Plenty loose forward trio this season, while Steamers wing Kimami Sitauti is another Australian import who played for the Rebels this year.

Coming to New Zealand to play in the ITM Cup is proving an attractive option for Australians because if you don't make the national squad there's only the back end of the club season to take part in after the Super 15 has wrapped up - or take a break before a mammoth pre-season with your franchise.

"Obviously for the fringe blokes and the younger blokes who are trying to establish themselves it's pretty hard when you don't get much of an opportunity in Super rugby, then you have to go back and play at club level and see how you are actually performing," Robinson said. "It's a happy medium to come over here in the ITM [Cup] and really up your skill set."

Rebels halfback Nic Stirzaker is one of those fringe players who has pounced on an opportunity.

After the Manawatu Turbos lost rookie No9 Jamie Booth to injury before the competition started, they were in need of something extra at the base of the scrum. The 22-year-old Stirzaker, who has logged 15 Super rugby appearances in two years in Melbourne, arrived in Palmerston North and hasn't disappointed.

His electric pace and useful support play have seen him bag three tries in the past two games.

Waikato have big Rebels prop Paul Alo-Emile and Force halfback Michael Snowden on the books.

"All the boys have got around them and made them feel welcome and they're fitting in to the Kiwi way of life," Waikato coach Johnny Walters said.

Walters said he'd never pick an Australian over a local up-and-comer but injuries and defections forced his hand.

South African-born halfback Mark Swanepoel, who made two appearances for the Brumbies this year, plays for Tasman, while Northland have former Australian under-20 lock Tom Murday in their ranks.

Coming across the ditch isn't a new phenomenon though. Waratahs wing Peter Betham was a human highlight reel for Tasman last year, while Manawatu also landed Sydney University five-eighths Dan Kelly a couple of seasons ago. Former NRL winger Luke Rooney dropped in for a short stint with Hawkes Bay in 2010.


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