In a week of recognition, awareness and celebration, two of the Australian Sevens program, First Nation’s athletes Dylan Pietsch and Maurice Longbottom, have stressed that education is crucial in Super Rugby’s inaugural First Nations round.
While each Super Rugby side will wear their own bespoke First Nations inspired jersey, it has renewed calls for the Australian Sevens teams to have an indigenous strip of their own, citing 20% of the Men’s Squad being of First Nations descent.
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“The connection to our culture is something which is embraced by the team, and everyone in the squad is keen to learn and do more.
“Walshy does a great job in supporting us and our identity; we’ve started to hang an Aboriginal flag in our team room, highlighting the connection to both the wider team and us,” Longbottom said.
However, before the side gets started on changing the uniform, Pietsch pointed out that an even more critical first step is education.
“A lot of people don’t understand because they’re not educated on the fact, we grew up in a world thinking Captain Cook founded Australia,” Pietsch said.
“My indigenous identity is everything to me, and it is represented in everything that I do.”
A proud Wiradjuri man, Pietsch own identity truly came to fruition after learning about his Indigenous heritage.
For fellow squad member Maurice Longbottom, a proud Dharawal man hailing from La Perouse, his connection to his community and culture is essential.
“I think it’s also important as we’re role models for younger members of the indigenous community.
“There wasn’t a lot growing up, so for me to be able to go to school visits, help at training sessions or even just hanging out with young indigenous boys and girls is something I wish I had when I was younger,” Longbottom said.
Pietsch echoed these sentiments, acknowledging that his position as a professional athlete provides him with a platform to influence young indigenous people, helping them better themselves, both on and off the field.
Speaking earlier in the week, Rugby Australia Chief Executive Andy Marinos said: “This is a truly significant weekend for all of Australian Rugby.
“We acknowledge that we are on the path to reconciliation, and this is yet another small step towards it.”
The Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU teams first nations jersey’s will be on display when the Melbourne Rebels travel to HBF Park to take on the Western Force while the Brumbies will take on the Reds in a Grand Final rematch at GIO Stadium in Canberra.
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This article was originally published on RUGBY.com.au.