Rugby in Austria


Rugby Friends

We visited with the academy of rugby at Schonbrunn.

World in Union Scroll - Profile

Rudi Glock: National Player (Outside Centre)and U17 Coach

Country Blog - Goodnight Vienna

We are leaving Vienna, and Austria for that matter, early tomorrow morning. This is a tough ask. Not because the 60km along the flat cycle paths of the river Danube to Bratislava presents any challenge, but because we have found our time here to be captivating. Perhaps this is because Vienna has been recently voted “most liveable city” in the world? Not for us though. Granted, it’s a beautiful city and the mood is both relaxed and with an air of sophistication, but our hosts here could have made the moon a warm and appealing place to spend the weekend. Our weekend started by arriving at the Schonbrunn sports facility, in the sunshine, and only 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Seconds after leaning up the bikes after a gruelling 100km cycle into the warm southerly breeze, we were greeted by Tini , the man responsible for running the whole facility. We sat and waited for our contact, Paul Duteil, to arrive.

Paul Duteil was a Frenchman, from Brittany, who had relocated to Vienna with his wife Katarina a number of years before. He was fluent in English, German and French and had been the president of Austrian rugby for around 5 years. He was a busy man, but balancing 2 jobs, a rugby union and finding time for his wife and 4 children had become difficult after time and so he had relinquished the voluntary role of president in 2008. Despite this, his presidency has laid the foundations for some excellent rugby infrastructure. We discussed how rugby had been in 2003 when he had taken the post. This didn’t take long to discuss. There had been next to nothing. Now we see a platform for youth development, 7s and both men and women’s rugby. I mention women’s rugby once more, for it becomes apparent that the women’s setup in Austria is particularly strong, currently the pride of the union. As I write, they stand 18th in the world at senior 7s, although a small player pool still prevents them competing on the 15s front. With the inclusion of 7s in the forthcoming Brazil Olympics, there is still the opportunity that our new Austrian friends might compete at this stage.

The clubhouse was also home to 2 Vienna club sides, Stade Viennois (the French based side) and Donau, many of their players represent their national side. These 2 clubs topped the Austrian league this year and compete in the league final in 2 weeks time. We sat and chatted in the sun and were introduced to a number of people in the Austrian national setup. In particular, Tini’s wife (Renee) who started women’s rugby in Austria and who captained and now coaches the national team. A fantastic husband-wife partnership sees this amazing couple undertaking many of the national responsibilities for developing women’s rugby. Between them they sit on the IRB 7s committee, coach and manage the national side, and are responsible for the Austrian rugby union budget as well as the national facilities. I regularly need to remind myself that these are just “hobbies” to Tini and Renee, who perform these functions for love of the game and not financial reward. The sport in Europe is still purely amateur, but there is nothing amateur about the organisation here.

We were then delighted to be introduced to the U17 national coach, Rudi Glock. Rudi was from South Africa and had played rugby both in South Africa and semi-professionally in Belfast. He was of Austrian heritage and so had a dual passport. He had arrived in Vienna 8 months previous to our meeting both to play and to coach in the Austrian national setup. It was great to meet another young European coach, it was another positive sign for the future generation of rugby in this country. If you can only be sure of 2 things in life it’s these. Fat kids will always win at see-saw, and South Africans make extremely good rugby players. As all amateur rugby players know, when you arrive at an opposition club house on a Saturday afternoon, you can’t help but feel short changed when you are told you will be treated to a “Braai” after the game. Not because the food isn’t fantastic, but because the chances of you being able to chew in 80 minutes time are fairly remote. To anyone who hasn’t experienced this, they play fast, and tough rugby. It’s difficult to see passed them for the 2011 World Cup. I digress. We now had our Austrian signature to add to our World in Union scroll and were delighted to be invited to a youth 7s tournament on the Sunday.

On Saturday morning Paul Duteil arrived at the club to collect us and show us the sights of Vienna, he took us to his house for breakfast where we met with his wonderful wife and family. Yet another European family where sport is in the blood. Katarina was a successful tennis player who had clearly won many awards judging by the collection in the front room, and the children already interested in kickboxing and rugby at a very young age. We were fed with fruits, cereal and coffee and then taken into town to Paul’s office for some further trip planning. Paul displayed more evidence of the “rugby family” across Europe as he casually phoned presidents in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and informed them further of our trip. We plotted a new route through Bulgaria, taking in the coastal path of the East, and considered the possibility of Georgia and Armenia as a short detour if time allowed.

We were then taken into town and treated to lunch, before heading out to the shared rugby pitch on the outskirts of Vienna. We watched the first XV from Stade play a touring side from Richmond Rugby Club. The “Good Old Boys” from Richmond was a misleading name. “Good” yes, but “Old” not particularly. The abilities of players ranged, but many had played in the English national league, either as amateurs or professionals, and still played at first XV today. Others had never played rugby before and they played the game in the correct spirit for the occasion. Nevertheless there was some tough rugby on display. Stade were preparing for their league final and this was ideal preparation. Some brutal tackling and penetractive attacking lines saw a close first half, Richmond edging the score by a couple of tries. The second half saw some rotation of players, and a conveyor belt of lager being brought out from the bar for their squad. Stade fought back and the 2nd half was a fairly even affair. The hosts scored 3 tries and the final score was 29-17. In my eyes, for a purely amateur side, this was an excellent achievement against a setup of Richmond’s calibre. Well done Stade.

That evening, we were taken back to Paul’s family house to watch the final of the French league with some of his French friends, who had also taken to relocating in Vienna. We were pleased to watch their side Clermont win their first final in 11 attempts against Perpignon. It had been a feast of rugby and we would like to thank Paul and his family for being such wonderful hosts to us.
Sunday morning, we awoke in the clubhouse, only metres from the training pitch where the youth 7s tournament was to be held. A handful of local sides competed, including 1 women’s side who held their own even against the boys, in one match, scoring the first try. The teams showed signs of good structure and basic skills. Good hands, committed tackling, and some pace out wide too. Austrian rugby is played with an attacking intent. The packs tend to be on the lighter, more mobile side, and they look to keep the ball alive where possible.

The tournament finished prematurely with a torrential downpour, and we hid in the smaller clubhouse, sitting on the laptop trying to follow up on e-mails for future visits. Perhaps we should have paid better attention to the players as they slowly exited towards the main facility as we were soon locked into the building with no key!! A small degree of concern crept in, as we realised that we only had enough wine in the fridge to last until Tuesday and we didn’t actually have any way of contacting the main clubhouse. After sending a few unanswered e-mails to members of the Austrian Rugby Union titled “SOS” and sitting in the desolate building for about an hour, we at last realised that we could slip out of the building through a set of sliding doors elsewhere. By this time Rudi and co had already moved on into the city to attend a rugby promotion stall at a festival. We caught up with them a little later and even involved ourselves in the demonstrations. I see “we” very loosely. I stood holding a camera, as Jodie steamed in to tackle bag after tackle bag both demonstrating both a competency as openside, and possibly venting the frustrations of 30 days on the road with me...... either way, Rudi’s face was one of genuine surprise, and then amusement as he clung onto the bag!

We have met many more people here in Vienna and we don’t have more time to write about this now, but it’s been a fantastic visit and we look forward to following the progress of Austrian rugby closer to the world cup, in my opinion Austrian rugby is only going in one direction. Best of luck to everyone here and thanks for making us so welcome.


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