Rugby Union

Robbie Abel puts family first as ACT Brumbies return for Super Rugby training

  Family helped Robbie Abel fall back in love with rugby at a time when he was prepared to quit the game for a job in the mines.

Now the Super Rugby hopeful is putting family first as he celebrates the life of his 21-month-old nephew River Arama Parry, who drowned in a backyard swimming pool last week.

Family helped Robbie Abel find his love of rugby. Now he's putting family first.
Family helped Robbie Abel find his love of rugby. Now he's putting family first. Photo: Melissa Adams

The ACT Brumbies will return to pre-season training on Monday to kickstart their 2016 hopes, travelling to Jindabyne as they welcome back their Wallabies stars for the first time since the World Cup.

But Abel begins the year with a heavy heart, and has been granted time off to focus on sharing memories of River's life, welcoming extended family into their home and taking part in cultural commemorations.

River Parry drowned in a Fisher backyard pool on Wednesday evening.
River Parry drowned in a Fisher backyard pool on Wednesday evening. Photo: Supplied

The 26-year-old has managed just 30 minutes of sleep since River died five days ago, putting all of his energy into family, adding the experience has put rugby in perspective and helped "gain a bit of balance in life".

The devastated family has been deeply moved by the support they've been given, and have gathered at their Fisher home to pay tribute to River.

"In our family, we're brought up knowing and believing that family is all that we have," Abel said.

"There's nothing in life that we treasure more than family. It's very hard for me to be away from them and coming home is always something that I want.

"If me being here is the best thing, it has been good in every sense. At one point we had 26 people living in our house. Everyone is close in a way that's unexplainable."

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham wants to lead the team to a drought-breaking championship this year after making the finals for the past three seasons.

Much of the immediate focus and attention will be on the bid to re-sign David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano and Scott Sio in the coming weeks.

Lealiifano is on the verge of a new flexible deal while Pocock is yet to decide on his future.

Captain Stephen Moore will join the Queensland Reds at the end of the year and playmaker Matt Toomua will move to England.

Getting a crack at Super Rugby after a long journey through the ranks is at the back of Abel's mind. The hooker has a chance to earn a long-term spot and help replace Moore.

But for now it's all about family and tradition. Brumbies teammates visited the Abel family home over the weekend to offer their support and pay respects. That's why Abel says the Brumbies are his second family.

"[River] acts like every day is the best day of his life, which is a pretty good example to me," Abel said.

"For us, family is all that we have. We spend every Saturday at rugby and then every Sunday the whole day at church. Both of those things we do with our family.

"We spend most days together ... for me it helps knowing that if rugby works, it works. But if it doesn't, it doesn't matter because I still have the things that are most important to me."

Abel was a schoolboy star in Canberra and was on the Brumbies' fringes when he decided to take a two-year Mormon mission to Western Australia.

He earned an extended player squad deal with the Western Force not long after, but the move to Perth left him disillusioned with rugby.

That's when he decided it was time to come back to Canberra to be closer to his family. They train together at Jerrabomberra during the week and Abel turned down a job in the Western Australia mines to move home and take another chance with the Brumbies.

"The Brumbies are very special organisation ... the view on family is that family comes first. I know everyone says that, but at the Brumbies they actually show that and live by it," Abel said.

"That's what gives the Brumbies such a family feel. That's why there are so many boys that love playing here. The boys did what they could to comfort me and my family to share some time.

"That makes it easy to put things in perspective and deal with things the best way possible, to be able to improve through all of this as well."