Giants player Josh Bruce watches Canberra Grammar Year 8 student, Ben Smart take a mark. Photo: Melissa Adams
Rugby union may have poached Israel Folau from Greater Western Sydney and the AFL but Australian rules has hit back with a partnership with one of Canberra's most dedicated rugby schools, Canberra Grammar.
Grammar old boy Josh Bruce is the highest-profile AFL export from the school, the Giants utility proving an exception by playing only one game of rugby during his years there.
As a year 11 student, he showed he had the skills for the game but he lacked the finishing touch to convince him to cross codes.
Recruited to the third-grade side by rugby co-ordinator Geoff Olsen, Bruce starred on the wing in a memorable debut.
''He did a fantastic run down the wing after a good mark, brushed a few aside, they couldn't get onto him, put the ball down, everyone cheered - then it turned out it was a couple of metres short,'' Olsen recalled. ''He'd put it down after the wrong line.''
Bruce remembers the incident well.
''It was pretty embarrassing but I think we got away with a win that day, so it was good,'' he said.
''I'd never played rugby before, so it was good to try it out.''
Bruce was one of ''two or three'' students playing Australian rules at the school when he left to join the Giants at the end of year 11, a number that has since grown to about 20.
Now his school and footy club, Eastlake, have joined forces in a partnership that will allow students to play Australian rules with the club instead of the winter sports, including rugby and soccer, offered at the school. It is perhaps a sign of the times and the growing strength of Aussie rules but Eastlake's general manager of football Bruce Macafee thinks the codes can happily coexist.
''We're very mindful of the rich heritage and the tradition here at Canberra Grammar with their rugby program and also conscious of the other sporting codes they offer with the school, so we hope to complement what they've got going at the school at the moment,'' Macafee said. ''Hopefully, if there are boys who are keen on AFL and they'd like to have a go, they've now … got the opportunity to do so.
''If anything, we'd like to be able to provide some AFL expertise to other sports here at the school, so it may be to the extent that we can give some technical training to the first XV [fly-half] or the first XV fullback with their kicking and marking techniques and that sort of stuff. It's important there's a high level of coexistence across the codes.'' It is that cross-code training that makes Bruce think his former GWS teammate Folau will ''kill it'' playing for the Waratahs.
''I reckon he'll go really well, especially now he's gotten a lot fitter than he obviously would have been playing rugby [league], with that aerobic capacity needed for footy,'' he said. ''Obviously his marking and stuff would have improved, so the cross-field kick on the wing or whatever, he'll be able to take even better grabs than he did playing for Queensland.''
Grammar's director of co-curricular education Sandy Goddard does not believe the partnership will detract from other sports programs.
''I don't think we'll lose players from [soccer] and rugby … it just gives those boys that connectedness, that they're not seen to be isolated,'' he said.