Dunbar to lead the way at Sydney 7s

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The old adage ‘good things come to those who wait’ certainly applies to Sydney University Football Club stalwart Stu Dunbar. The long-serving five-eight will lead the Australian men’s team at the three-day Sydney 7s tournament this weekend at Allianz Stadium, Moore Park.. The 2023 Sydney 7s will feature teams from 18 countries, with 16 male and 12 female teams.

For 30-year-old Dunbar, a product off Wagga Wagga, Scots College and SUFC, the chance to lead his country is a huge honour. Having spent more than a decade leading the Sydney Uni backline, he was finally noticed in 2019 and made his Aussie  7s debut against Scotland at the Los Angeles World Series tournament, however he has been restricted by the pandemic to just 10 appearances since then.

“You always hear from athletes in the back half of their career that they are able to appreciate things a lot more and I guess that’s what I’m experiencing,” Dunbar told Rugby News. “I’m loving the opportunity to be a professional athlete and to represent my country and I guess everyone would, but I think I really appreciate it because it took me so many years, toiling away and waiting for an opportunity.”

Dunbar made his SUFC debut for 1stColts in 2011, winning premierships with Colts and 2nd Grade before making his1st Grade debut as a 19-year old and cementing his spot as the team’s starting No.10. “I love playing with Sydney Uni,” he said. “There’s a fantastic culture there and we had lots of team success. I thought I was playing good enough to get picked up on a few occasions, but others kept getting opportunities in front of me.

“The great thing about Uni is that the more you give, the more you get. The Club has the resources to help you develop into a professional player if you want to put in the time. I had opportunities to go to other clubs, but I always thought there was no point in going to another club if I was still going to have to compete with the Sydney Uni No.10 for a professional contract anyway. I always thought I was better off working hard, even if it meant playing 2nd or 3rd grade, and fighting hard for the jersey and opportunities that I wanted.”

Australian rugby is fortunate Dunbar didn’t throw in the in the towel and joining the real world when he returned from a stint in Italy.  “I was 24 or 25 at that stage and I remember thinking when I was over there that I’d come home and give footy one last serious crack,” he told Rugby News. “From that point I started to train and act like a professional player, even though I wasn’t one. I was training every day down in Cronulla with Justin Lang from Live Athletic for a full year and that was probably the turning point. I started to train and think like a professional.”

Dunbar had a season with the Melbourne Rebels where he earned a Super Rugby cap, and a season with North Harbour in the ITM Cup before he was invited to play with the Aussie 7s. He made his mark from the start and was a big contributor when the Aussies won the World Series last year.

“The beauty of the Shute Shield is that you get to play in front of your family and friends quite often but chatting to some of the other boys that have been in the 7s program for quite a while, this is the one weekend a year where they get to do that and you can see how excited the group is,” Dunbar told Rugby News.

“We had a breakout season last year, winning the World Series and we want to back that up this year, starting this weekend in Sydney. We were consistent throughout 2022 and that’s something we’re still searching for this year. The top four in the World Series also qualify automatically for the 2024 Olympics in Paris so that’s our other big focus.”

“Overall, we want to win the World Series, but top four is also very important. It’s competitive this year. We’ve had four tournaments so far with four different winners so it’s important to be finishing in that top four as a minimum every tournament.”

Dunbar is looking forward to defending that world title at the weekend with the help of SUFC team-mates Tim Clements and Simon Kennewell. The SUFC fullback, Clements made his Aussie 7s debut against Samoa this year and has been retained for the Sydney 7s. A product of St Joesph’s College, Clements debuted with SUFC Colts in 2016 and earned a Rugby Blue when Sydney University won the 2018 Shute Shield, he’s since won a further Shute Shield titles with SUFC.  Along the way, Clements played for NSW Schools, NSW Under 20s, NSW Country Eagles in the National Rugby Championships in 2019-20 and the Sydney Rays 2018-19. Kennewell who made his debut for the Aussie 7s in 2016 and has played in 23 tournaments, joined SUFC in 2022 and played a crucial role in the team’s Premiership success. On the back of a strong season he re-joined the Aussie 7s team before the Hamilton 7s tournament last weekend in New Zealand.

Australia will face Argentina, Great Britain and Canada in the pool stages of the three-day tournament.