Grace Hamilton’s journey to rediscover the fire and fall in love with rugby again

Brittany MitchellESPN Assistant EditorJuly 7, 2023, 12:41 AM9 minutes of reading

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It was a physically demanding season for the Wallaroos, playing more Test matches in a calendar year. One season she labeled „tough.”

Hamilton’s seventh season in Wallaroos colors got off to a rocky start after losing the captaincy and O’Reilly being dropped from the series opener against New Zealand. But beyond all that, there were bigger issues weighing on her mind — the recent death of her father at the top of the list.

„I think I struggled a little bit mentally last year, it’s not a secret to anybody, I’ve been very open about that,” Hamilton told ESPN. “I struggled a bit but I got over it and had a good World Cup and there’s nothing better than playing for Australia.

„I don’t think so [losing the captaincy] It was the catalyst for what it was all about. I really respect Shannon [Parry] She was obviously the captain when I first came to the Wallaroos and it was like your old captain coming back, she’s a great leader.

„I lost my dad, and then I lost, I don’t know, that fire in my belly to want to keep going.

„It was probably losing the biggest rugby supporter in Australia, and then playing our first Test after Covid last year… the first Test I played after my dad died, and that was it. It was compounded by some politics within rugby.

„Going through that was probably the biggest milestone for me and then coming out the other end and now I feel like I can play with a little more freedom.”

Hamilton’s father, John, was well known throughout the Australian rugby community, but particularly in the Midwest of NSW, having served as NSW Country Junior Rugby Chairman for many years before his death from cancer. 2019.

Australia’s Grace Hamilton tackles during the Pacific Four seriesMatt Roberts – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

He was Grace’s biggest fan, traveling to all his games and making sure to be in the crowd, while the pair spoke daily during the season to chat after games and talk all things rugby.

However, it wasn’t until the Wallaroos’ inaugural tournament in 2022 that those emotions really boiled over. Hamilton, who will not play any Tests in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid, took the field for the national anthem to face Fijiana at Suncorp Stadium and as his eyes searched the crowd for his family, tears began to fall.

„I always like having dad in the crowd, but especially when I’m playing for Australia, I’ll find him and he’ll just shake his head and say, 'You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine’ and it’s not.

„Obviously my brother and my sister and my mom and everybody were there, and I know they supported me wholeheartedly. But I always said, 'Well, this is it,’ so you just have to keep going. That’s what I do.

„So last year was tough, but we’re on the other side and I’m excited for the season ahead.”

As he reflected on a season that ended in a quarter-final under a new coach, 10 Tests and a World Cup, the 31-year-old admitted that despite being ranked, he was not always at his best on the field. One of the competition’s leading ball carriers — but he managed to push himself to the limit and always believed the Wallaroos could come home as champions.

Grace Hamilton of the Wallaroos kisses her father after the winJason McCawley/Getty Images

„There were days when you were physically tired and you didn’t want to make a tackle and things like that, but the girls all came around,” Hamilton told ESPN. “Those little moments are whining, but playing for Australia and representing the country is something very special.

“For us, sticking together in those tough moments and asking yourself why do you want to do this, we had to embrace those opportunities because not everyone gets that opportunity, that was exciting for us.

„I did [believe we could win the World Cup]. I’m a person who believes everything you do, everything you do, you have to do it with purpose. Regardless of the score or where you sit in a game, I’m going to win and I’m going out there like things aren’t going our way. The weather wasn’t great, I’ve never played in such conditions in my life and it probably suited England in our quarter-final defeat.

„But I’m a person who absolutely believes you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I’ll always be that person whether it’s in my normal life or my professional life or my rugby life. I absolutely believe I can be a Wallaroos one day.

„I think the happier you are, the better you play. There were moments where I wasn’t where I should have been as an athlete and I struggled. I didn’t ask my teammates for enough help. I absorbed a lot, but I’m on the other end now and I’m excited for that.” Because I want to step back and be free and feel like I can play footy. The new girls and it’s a very refreshing environment this year.”

Despite the long season, Hamilton will have little rest as he becomes one of a number of Wallaroos players heading north to Europe at the end of the year to play a different game of rugby. While his team-mates Arabella McKenzie, Caitlan Leaney, M Chancellor and Lori Cramer traveled to England to play in the Premiership 15, Hamilton approached several clubs in France before signing a five-match deal with Montpellier.

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

With a new country and a new language, she will want to try a new position and occasionally go to the open side. While it wasn’t an easy transition, it was the right one for the back-rower as she looked to grow rugby again.

„I’ve always wanted to go abroad, I thought I’d go to England to play in the Premiership 15s, but that didn’t work out. I’ve always been interested in France and I wanted to learn a new language. The opportunity came up, so I spoke to a few clubs in France and Montpellier came to me and asked if I liked it. They were very kind there. They respect you a lot and they let you play a completely different style of rugby. Rugby and I really enjoyed it.

„As I’m at the stage of my career, I’ve done everything I can in the Australian game, I’ve been able to open my eyes and see how they play and it’s been a really fun environment. I feel really good and they want me to come back.

„It was eye-opening how you were treated, and here it might be very professional, but you’re treated differently. They get money and stuff there, but you’re treated like an adult. Everything was like what do you put on. You get out. Every practice you do every day. There’s no need to be in uniform or anything like that, but if you don’t run the bus on time, it’s your fault, you’re just not playing.

„It was very different, you had to be determined. You were treated like an adult, when the rugby was on, it was on and everyone was putting in 110%. But when you’re off the field or between drills, you can relax and have a chat. And it can have things like that, so a completely different style of training and playing.

„They kicked the ball a lot, so I ran a lot, did a lot of kick chases, but it was exciting because I’ve never been immersed in an environment like that and learning a new language. I didn’t understand half of it, but they were very kind to me and I really enjoyed it.

„I definitely think it’s affected how I look at the game. How much profit they get from kicking, getting rid of the ball often. Sometimes I think they need to build up a bit more, but it’s opened my eyes. How you can play the game in different ways, different areas of the pitch. In parts, it’s great.”

Having said goodbye to several teammates at the end of the 2022 season and captain Shannon Barry after the first Test against Fijian in Sydney, Hamilton is now one of the most experienced players in the squad and although he will not return to captaincy, he remains. One of the leaders of the team.

Reflecting on her teammates’ achievements and contributions over the years to promote the women’s game, build on the Wallaroos’ legacy and her own growth in rugby, Hamilton has no plans to hang up her boots just yet, instead believing she has plenty left. to give

„Or [Batibasaga]Shannon Barry and Faye Jones and Liz Pattu are retiring and I remember when I first saw those girls on the lap and was so nervous around them. Rugby’s thing,” Hamilton said. „They’ve done a lot for the game and I hope we can build on that and let young people know how much these girls have put in to get to where they are today.

“People asked me what I thought [about retirement], but I don’t know, I think I have a few years in me. I am back from France; The way they played rugby opened my eyes to a different kind of rugby. For me it was the most exciting, probably the most refreshing thing, going after the World Cup.

„I don’t know, it will happen in the next few years, I’m not sure. I’ll try and come to the next World Cup, maybe, but we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. . . I’m very confident, I’m doing my part. If I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep going.” I’ll go. If I don’t, I might just walk away from the game, which I’m very comfortable with.”

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