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Call for more Aboriginal support to boost Indigenous representation in Wallabies ranks

Andrew Mathieson -

For a game customarily associated to elitism and privilege, it has been slow progress over time for the world's longest continuous culture of 65,000 years to be recognised and valued on the rugby front.

The national governing body took almost four decades until - at the time - unknown Gomeroi man Cecil Ramalli, in 1938, debuted for the Wallabies, and near on a quarter of a century more until Mununjali and Wakka Wakka man Lloyd McDermott also appeared twice.

But after counting the numbers through the history books, the 14 few Indigenous players to represent their country over the past 124 years has Dylan Pietsch not only wanting to be the 15th man but to also bring more numbers for the ride to expedite their First Nations presence.

The Wiradjuri man was called into the Test training party for this year's winter series of matches and got close to being named for the Wallabies a couple of times, including being tipped to pack his bags to come in for the World Cup before plans were scuttled.

The fact that one of the few genuine NSW Waratahs stars in a Super Rugby franchise that has constantly underachieved over the years has got this far has been – for the most part – through the clear strong will of his father Troy Pietsch.

Not only was the bush front rower a wise rugby head out on the field, the Aboriginal Elder in Narrandera also guided his son through tough times boarding at a Sydney private school where the scholarship-holder had to constantly defend his culture.

The 25-year-old overcame a lot in that elite environment of the Kings School and its GPS rugby program to come out the other side the better while educating his critics.

That experience has convinced Pietsch that Rugby Australia down, through the state bodies, the club sides, the universities and the private schools, need to connect with the mobs to garner their widespread talent that exist in many Indigenous communities.

The AFL and the NRL have always gained widespread support that rugby union has failed to achieve and the message, according to Pietsch, is quite simple.

"Get our Aboriginal people to work within Rugby Australia because at the moment, we don't have any Aboriginal roles inside Rugby Australia," Pietsch said.

"It would be good to get those connections out there going, and get Aboriginal people looking after Aboriginal people to connect (the sport) up that way.

"It just would be so good for our game."

Pietsch's words ring true for 16-year-old Kaylan Morris, who this year starred for Port Macquarie Pirates in less than a full season playing in first grade.

The club turned around its flagging fortunes and broke a long-standing drought after Morris was given special dispensation to play with seasoned men in just the one-time soccer junior's fourth competitive season in rugby union.

But after insiders at his club suggested pursuing a Sydney GPS education to further his chances in the code, the Jawoyn, Wiradjuri, Dunghutti and Biripi talent found a lack of Rugby Australia programs for Indigenous students that were culturally safe.

He will instead relocate to New Zealand's Rotorua Boys' High School over its reputation for culturally embracing Indigenous Maori and Pacific Islander students.

Through a pre-existing rugby bond, Pietsch has touched base with Morris to share his own similar experiences.

Pietsch was concerned that the fullback who represented NSW Koori youth at this year's Pasifika Cup could be lost to the game in Australia, but worse still to his connection as a proud First Nations man.

"Whenever I come home, the first thing I do is I talk to my dad or I talk to some of the uncles because I need to connect back," he said.

"We would always go out bush and show me some mob stuff, we go camping and all that stuff.

"It's what I want to do with these kids – to go out with them and do the same kind of thing.

"I'm hoping we can do that with rugby union more to get our people into those areas and connect to Country."

Pietsch has spent close to a decade living more than 500 kilometres away from home and family.

Not just Wiradjuri Country, but some months at a time to the country's seven-a-side rugby team on the annual World Series tour.

The payoff in the end was to represent Australia at the recent Tokyo Olympics with good mate Maurice Longbottom.

The pair shared a close bond as the only two Indigenous players in the squad, but also after both men went through the late Lloyd McDermott's development team in the lead up to Wallabies sevens' selection.

Pietsch said they agreed that there needed to be better cultural support for blak fellas to adorn the fast-paced game in the future.

"It's always hard for Aboriginal boys to go overseas – you miss a lot," he said.

"Even me going on tours, I always feel the thing I miss back home is being connected to Country back home – and I feel I am really independent too."

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