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Behind the Cups with Pedro Rolando

“Behind the Cups,” is a new series where we sit down one-on-one with people from club land for an in-depth conversation discussing their rugby journey. Behind every cup are the unsung heroes that help build upon the legacy of our game.

Argentine scrumhalf Pedro Rolando has been a prolific point scorer for the Canberra Royals. His on-field ability is a true testament to his character and the hard work he puts in off the field. I sat down with him as he shared about his journey from Argentina to Australia and his connection to the game.

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Hi Pedro, thank you for meeting with me it’s great to be able to share your amazing story. So let’s dive straight in, when and how did you realise your love of rugby?

I started playing rugby at the age of four choosing to follow in my Dad’s steps. My Dad helped build the club I used to play with back home in Buenos Aires Argentina, so it was a no brainer for me to play. Soon all my friends joined the club too which made it easy for me to enjoy the sport from day one. In the beginning I really didn’t want to play, I wanted to play soccer but my Dad and his friends said if I played, they’ll give me two bucks. After the first game I was hooked!

Wow, what a good investment, look where it has brought you! What was your motivation behind moving to Australia and how did you get involved with teams here in Canberra?

I’ve always wanted to play overseas whether it was in Europe, Japan, New Zealand, or Australia. In 2012, I was 22 years old and playing for San Patricio and for Buenos Aires on their state level representative rugby sides. I decided to try my luck and see what happens, so I put together my own highlight reel and sent it to teams here in Australia.

A few teams were interested in, but it was Bill Swain (Former Royals Club Manager) who contacted me straight away. He’s the one who convinced me. He arranged video calls, organised a job, a place to live and helped me get settled in here in Canberra. The few meetings we had before my arrival were via Skype and with my broken English, I'm sure it wasn't easy for him to understand anything I was saying.

I was nervous to come over, I reached out to a mate from school named Steve a fellow Argentinian who lived here. His Dad is Patricio Noriega a former Brumbies front rower. They told me it’s cool here, so I talked to my Mum and decided to give it a try. I was only going to stay for a season or two, but I immediately loved it and I’m still here 10 years later.

We grew up watching the Wallabies and Brumbies as a family. George Gregan and Stephan Larkham were our heroes. Some of the best rugby I’ve ever watched were games between Brumbies and Crusaders during the early the 2000s. For my family and I having the opportunity to come to Canberra, the home of the Brumbies was unbelievable.

I know it must be hard to be so far away from your family especially throughout the pandemic.

Like many families being separated during Covid has been very hard. Thankfully my Mum was able to visit back in 2017. She came over to watch a game but after we made finals, we pushed back her tickets so she could be with us longer. I’m really looking forward to November this year my parents, my sister and her children will all come over for my wedding to my partner Hannah. I’m also grateful that throughout covid my Royals family were there to help each other too.

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Congratulations to you and Hannah! When you first came to Australia did you except you to be where you are now?

Not really, no during my first year at Royals, we had a great team but unfortunately, we didn’t win the grand finale. I thought I’d go back home after that, but the club asked if I’d like to stay longer. I agree to another two years to play then soon after that I met my girlfriend and now, we’re getting married so I’m not going back now. This has been more than I ever expected it would be.

Where did you see yourself going from here? What are your goals for the remainder of the season and moving forward?

I’m really looking forward to finals rounds. Defeating Vikings last weekend was a good way to finish the initial part of the regular season. We had some heavy losses this season to Queanbeyan and Uni-North because we switched off and struggled to come back. I think moving forward if we can make the improvements needed and are more consistent during the game, I believe you’ll be seeing Royals play on September 10th.

I love coaching! I’ve been coaching for about seven or eight years at Canberra Grammar School in the Juniors sides. It can be a lot going from work to coaching trainings then rushing to Royals training. On the weekends I’d coach in the morning and then play in the afternoon. This season I decided to take a step back from that role to focus on giving my body the rest it needs.

I probably only have one more season left in me at this level. I’ll take time during the off season to prepare for next year and give it everything I have for 2023. I tore my ACL just before Covid hit but the timing allowed me to be able to take the time I needed to rehab and to get myself back to the game. After I retire from playing, I hope to put my energy into coaching. I love it, it’s fun!

You have a lot of experience playing on representative teams - Brumbies 7s, Brumbies Runners, Canberra Vikings (National Rugby Competition 2015, 2017 & 2018), and ACT Griffins. What has that experience like and how it impacted to you?

It was awesome! Anytime you can play on the next level is the dream. We played against Japan in 2019 when I was on the Runners. It was right before the World Cup - we got smashed but the experience was great. I enjoyed being able to test myself and to play with more experienced players. Even though we lost it was awesome being able to say I could still hold my own against them.

Playing with the NRC team was great. That felt much more full-time because we had more demanding trainings hours and we were playing alongside some Wallabies players. We were learning from them, their knowledge of the game and their experience. The NRC games were much more fast paced. Our first game against Perth was hard - the ball handling is quicker, the take-off is much quicker, and the higher-level players hit much harder. You really need to prepare yourself when you are moving into the higher grades and levels of rugby. You need to train harder and dedicate yourself more to bring your physicality and mentality up to where it needs to be.

Throughout your journey you’ve made good connections with other players and teams on local and international levels. How important is creating a rugby community to you?

Very important! I have been in Australia now for 10 years and couldn't be more grateful for all the help I received from the Rugby community in Canberra especially within Royals. It is not just about playing rugby. It is about creating a community where everything feels welcome and supported. You’re creating these friendships, this family that will last a lifetime. You are building your own rugby family.Royals have given me so many opportunities and have built this family and community. It’s the right club for me.

Rugby truly can connect people from all walks of life. I appreciate you sitting down with me and sharing your story. As we draw near to the end of this interview, we have a round of fast questions to tell us learn a little bit more about you.

First questions, what is your game day hype song? What helps you to get in the right mindset before a game?

I don’t listen to any music before a game. Joey our physio plays music for us but I’m usually not a fan of his music choices except last week he played reggaeton which I like. Before games I just eat a lot of food and try to tune everything out.

Reggaeton, good choice! You mentioned you eat a lot before a game. What’s your go-to game day snacks?

I start with three pieces of toast at about 5:00am on the weekends. My process is to work out first thing in the morning. Then I have a banana and small packet of popcorn then I have a protein bar. Around 11:30am I’ll have lunch with is usually a chicken schnitzel with some salad or rice. In between all that I have two or three coffees and right before the game I’ll have another banana and some lollies.

Wow! That’s what you call meal prep!

I like food and I’m always busy, so I need the energy.

Who was the first person you texted this morning?

My Sister – she had a question about the wedding.

On your phone, what is the most used app?

I’m not very techno but probably Instagram actually, no, it’s what’s app because that’s how I message my family back home in Argentina.

Who is your hometown hero – who are your biggest supporters?

My beautiful fiancé Hannah is one of my greatest supporters. In the 6 years we’ve been together she has never missed a game. I can’t wait to call her my wife!

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Also, my parents they’ve never missed a game either, they watch livestreams on BarTV when it’s about one or two in morning over in Argentina. If I don’t play well, they’ll message me straight away to tell me where I can improve. My Dad always gives me advice, Mum usually just says I did good.

What is your favourite rugby memory?

When we won the John I Dent Cup in 2015 and all these people stormed the field celebrating. The vibe in the crowd was amazing!

What are your top 3 favourite movies right now?

I want to see new Top Gun. I am more of a serious guy; I’ve been watching more TV series. I just finished watching Friends for the first time and I’m watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a rugby career overseas?

My advice is to be 100% committed. It will be hard at times being away from family and friends but it’s worth it. You need to find the right community and support system for you. Within your club is where you can find it, it’s important to find the right one for you personally. That’s something I am incredibly grateful for.

Thanks again Pedro! Best wishes to you and Hannah and good luck to Canberra Royals this weekend!

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*Notes about Interviewer: Georgia Rae Abel was raised on the side lines of the rugby field watching her dad coach and brothers play before strapping on the boots herself. Playing in Junior rugby, on her high school teams and in Women’s Premier 15s. Georgia Rae has a wide background in rugby on and off the field.

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