Rugby Union

License article

Ex-Wallaby James Holbeck's Mitchell Pearce-inspired blog strikes chord with struggling former players

Show comments

A former Wallaby, who has written a forthright account of how alcohol impacted his career, says he has been inundated with messages from other athletes revealing their struggles with the bottle.

Up Next

Fiji defeat New Zealand

Video duration

More Rugby League Videos

Mitchell Pearce fronts the media

Mitchell Pearce makes a brief statement apologising for his drunken behaviour caught on camera on Australia Day.

James Holbeck played seven Tests between 1997 and 2001 but says his days in the national side and the ACT Brumbies were cut short by a combination of injuries and poor decisions.

"It's hard to quantify how much alcohol affected my career. I was injured a lot but I think, when you've also got a problem with alcohol, it doesn't look good to medical staff and others within an organisation. I managed to have little stints when I was off it but at other times I was a shocker," he told Fairfax Media.

Holbeck felt compelled to write about his experiences in the wake of the scandal involving rugby league star Mitchell Pearce, who was forced to admit to an issue with drinking after an ugly video emerged of his behaviour on Australia Day.

Holbeck, who gives talks to young people about the dangers of substance abuse, said he was surprised at the reaction to his blog piece.


"The really interesting thing has been the number of past players who have contacted me to tell me about the struggles they're going through, the struggles they've had around this issue," he said.

"I've dissected myself and carved myself up for everyone to see. But I think it's reflective of many more people than we would imagine. I'm getting lots of messages from people who are still trying to find the answer, trying to find the balance."

In his article, Holbeck reveals he was sent home from a tour partly because he ignored coach Rod Macqueen's warnings.

"In 1996 ACT Brumbies rugby union coach Rod Macqueen asked me to join the squad for the upcoming season but warned that I had a reputation as a drinker and needed to take a break," he writes.

"Not long after, I wandered home early one morning only to be greeted by Rod in the stairwell as he was walking out the door for a run. … Interestingly, I didn't get picked for the early games of that season.

"A year later when the Wallabies were touring Argentina, Rod pulled me aside to suggest it was in my best interests that I had an early night but after a heady trip to the Iguazu Falls … I thought it would be an idea to have a few drinks to celebrate. These ideas of mine never seemed to be good ideas, just ideas!

"On the bus the next day Rod sought me out to ask why I was seen coming home in the early hours of the morning after he had specifically asked me not to. I ended up being sent home with a few other players not needed in Europe …".

Later in the article, Holbeck writes that Pearce, he believes, must "face the battle within, understand why he drinks, be kind where the shame lurks and find not just a sense of who is and what he stands for, but also realise that true strength is to be able to stand alone without needing to dance to anyone else's beat."

It's a struggle many others are dealing with, says Holbeck, who has not had a drink in five years.

"A lot of guys I've spoken to were really overwhelmed by the pressure of being a professional sportsperson and didn't know how to deal with it emotionally. Alcohol can be one way to deal with that sort of pressure. The question is how do we find more healthy ways to express that overwhelmed feeling?

"For me, there I was touring with my national team, something I wanted to do all my life, and yet the coach tells me not to do something and I don't have the strength to listen to him. Looking back, that's ridiculous. How could you compromise everything you've wanted?"