Please find our opening Ask a Pro Blog with our very own rugby professional guru, Pale Nonu (professional rugby player for Rotherham Titans and brother of NZ All Black Ma’a Nonu). Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Ask Pale” to get all of your questions answered in next month’s blog.
QDid you always know you wanted to play rugby professionally?
When I was a young boy in New Zealand rugby was everywhere – it was a part of every day life and it was (and remains today) most young boys’ dream to become an All Black.
My dad was a huge influence in terms of learning the game and always encouraged my brothers and me to play the game. His love of the game kind of rubbed off on us.
Growing up it was always my dream to be a professional rugby player and to be paid to do something I love. I feel lucky and very blessed to be doing this.
QHow did you make the transition from amateur to professional rugby? Did you find this to be difficult?
Time would be the main difference between playing at an amateur and a professional level. As an amateur or a player aspiring to become a professional rugby player, you have to balance your training and nutrition with your full time job as well as other commitments you may have, whereas a professional can concentrate fully on training, nutrition and the core skills of their position.
As with anything, the transition to becoming a professional did take time, however, I was lucky to have family and friends who were already professionals who I could get advice from and help with things like training, nutrition and any skill work I needed to improve on. [/faq
QHow many days a week do you train with the team?
We train four days a week. Training is twice a day most weeks, depending on the match day. Most days training is around 4/5 hrs per day.
QWhat does the training consist of?
We have gym/conditioning sessions in the mornings which consists of weights and different types of running eg. track sprints, stadium runs, etc. Mondays and Tuesdays are the toughest days with Tuesdays being the worst, which is why we call them “Terrible Tuesdays”.
Afternoon sessions are mainly rugby sessions where we work on fundamental skills (catching, passing,kicking,), team patterns, back moves, drills to maintain and improve fundamental skill specific exercises for your position. We also do a lot of analysis on our own game from the previous week and also analysis on our upcoming opponents.
Mondays and Tuesdays are the toughest days with Tuesdays being the worst, which is why we call them “Terrible Tuesdays”.
QDo you still enjoy playing each and every game of rugby or does playing for money have its downsides?
I still love to play every week!! The thrill of running out in front of a big crowd and the feeling after a good hard game (winning game) is hard to beat!
QDid you always stand-out as an amateur rugby player?
When I first started playing I didn’t excel at rugby, to be truly honest. I was mainly there to catch up with friends and I enjoyed that part of the rugby. It took me a few years to understand the game, build confidence in myself and my abilities, and a whole lot of backyard training with my brothers.
QWhen did you first start to believe that you could play professionally?
I think it was pretty late when I started to believe that I could become a professional rugby player. I thought I was good at rugby but never really truly believed that I could do it professionally. I always had people believing I could do it but I guess I didn’t believe it myself. It was only after seeing my brother and friends make it that I gained the courage to try and push myself.
QWhat do you miss about amateur rugby?
The main thing that I miss about amateur rugby is playing with the friends that I grew up with who still play for my local club back home, Oriental Rongotai, and playing with my brothers. I have a younger brother, Lima, who still plays there and obviously Ma’a who plays there when not on representative duties. Last time Ma’a was up this way he gave me an Ories jersey – its hanging in the wardrode ready for me to put on when I return, haha.
QIs the culture of professional rugby different? Obviously amateur rugby has a big social aspect to it. Is it the same at the professional level?
The friendships you make with your teammates are the same really – the banter and comraderie is the same. You’re going out to battle together, you spend most of your days training together, you travel away together, so you do develop that bond.
There is a lot more pressure as a professional in that the results are key. As an amateur your performance is not scrutinised as much, whereas being a pro means that come Monday your performance is analysed again on screen, where your can pause, slow motion, and highlight your performance. That’s serious pressure.
QDo you still watch your mates play at an amateur level?
When I am home in Wellington, New Zealand, I get to every game. When away I keep up with club news and results every week and stay in touch with friends from home regularly.
QWhat was your best rugby moment from when you played at an amateur level and what was it at a professional level?
Best moment as an amateur would have to be every game I played with my brothers for the Ories. Best moment as a professional is being able to do this for a living!!